Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spooky isn't just for Halloween

By C.L. Phillips

True story time.  I was ten years old and confident Santa Claus did not exist.  Everyone in the fifth grade knew that.  I told my mother at Thanksgiving, "Only babies believe in Santa Claus."

At our house, Santa brought unwrapped gifts because as my mother would attest, "Santa doesn't have time to wrap all these presents and still make it around the world."  Santa had other rules too.  Only one present per child.  Again, my mother, "Just exactly how big do you think his sleigh is?"

On Christmas Eve, after dinner, I carefully inspected the tree.  Only wrapped presents. Confident Santa was a parental hoax played on naive children, I started monitoring everyone's movements, my mother, my father, and myself.  We watched television in the den.  As was my father's custom, he asked, "Would you get me a cup of coffee?"  Gleefully I jumped up.  An opportunity to inspect the tree.

The Christmas tree stood in the formal living room,  brightly lit, carefully decorated, but no unwrapped presents.  I skipped into the kitchen for the coffee and returned to the tree.  No unwrapped presents.  I marched back to the den and mentally noted both of my parents had not left the room.  I would prove Santa Claus was a fake.

The three of us watched a show.  My little beady eyes jumped back and forth between my parents and the door to the den.  Nobody left the room.  I lay on the floor across the doorway, ear to the floor, listening for vibrations.  Not one sound.  My parents chatted about Christmas dinner, and ignored my advanced surveillance.

At the end of the show, my father asked,  "Would you please get me another cup?"  I sprang into action.  Another chance to inspect the tree.  This time a huge box containing a junior chemistry set, somehow materialized from thin air.  "Santa came."

I ran to the front door, it was locked from the inside.  I threw it open.  A light snow covered the walkway.  No footsteps.  Our neighbors on both sides were out of town visiting family.  I slammed the door.  My father said, "Shut that door.  It's cold out there."

"How did Santa get in here?"  We didn't have a fireplace.  The backdoor opened to a locked garage.  No footprints meant nobody came in through the front, and I kept watch in the den.  Nobody left the room except ME.   And I didn't do it. 

"How did Santa get here?  There is no Santa?  What happened?"  I wasn't going to celebrate Christmas until I got to the bottom of this.  Somebody pulled a trick on me, and I wasn't going to let them get away with it.  Steam poured out my ears.

My father pulled me close and looked into my eyes.  "What do you believe happened?"  His face was serious, all business. 

Confused, not sure what to believe, I said, "I don't know.  But there's no Santa."

He looked at the chemistry set, letting his eyes do the talking.  "Who told you there was no Santa?"

The steam in my ears turned to tears.  I fought the urge to stamp my foot.  "Kids at school."

"What do you believe?"

In that moment, the facts were overwhelming.  "Santa came to visit me."

My father gave me a big hug.  "Always remember, you decide what you believe."

We opened our presents and celebrated as we always did.  I went to school the following week and told this story to everyone.  Each child tried to solve the mystery.  "Your neighbors did it."  Nope, they were gone.  "The present was always there."  No, I inspected every square inch of that tree.  "Your mom or dad left the room when you weren't looking."  No, I was lying across the doorway.  Besides, I was the only person who left the room.  "You did it."  Absolutely not.  I was trying to prove Santa didn't exist.

To this day, the mystery remains unsolved.  Each time I ask my father about the incident, his eyes twinkle.  "Remember what I told you.  You decide what you believe."

Monday, November 29, 2010


By Karen Maslowski (still in Ohio)

Thanks to Bente Gallagher for asking if I would like to blog with the Working Stiffs; I'm truly honored. While I've written several books–all out of print–none of them have yet been fiction. I'm hoping to change that someday soon.

There are so many things to be grateful for: good health, daughters happy and on their own financially, a brilliant (of course!) grandson, and the fact that my parsimonious husband insisted on saving everything we could for a rainy day. Now that the metaphorical rain is drenching us I can see his wisdom, and I do thank him often for holding that line (even though it kills me to do so–we still don't have cable).  Every day I find a new reason to be grateful for my computer, and for the connections I have to the rest of the world because of it, including the Stiffs!

When it comes to my writing life the Internet has to be considered as the single largest success factor, after experience and desire to write.  I was one of the very first in the sewing industry to have a website, advertising my books. Research has changed considerably since I wrote my first book in 1994; at that time I found many of the subjects I wrote about–sewing professionals–through message boards on Usenet, Prodigy, AOL, and Compuserve. In my last book I included a chapter on using a computer in a sewing business; it had become that important on so many levels.

The social aspects of the Internet have become increasingly important, as have the entertainment portions. Who would have dreamed we'd be reading books on mobile phones, for heaven's sake? Or hearing from our friends multiple times a day, even though they are on the other side of the world?

Over the years I've met a lot of people first online and then face to face, including in four other countries. It's fascinating that, while we rarely write letters today, we probably read each other’s' written words far more often than ever before. We learn more about our friends and acquaintances, I think, when we see how they write. Bente and Laurissa and I met in person at an RWA conference here in Ohio. Reading one another’s blog comments for the last few years led to a nearly instant connection. And I’m fairly sure I’d recognize Annette instantly!

How has the computer and the web made a difference for you? What are you grateful for in the cyberworld? 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankful—or Not

By Patricia Gulley

The theme this month made me realize what a swing from right to left thankfulness can be. I am very thankful that I got published this year, but not so thankful to realize how uninspiring the amount of publicity I’ve done for the book has not produced the readers I’d hoped for or very much profit. Yes, there are sales, and at first actually being able to account for each and every one was a study in disappointment. It has moved to realizing strangers have actually purchased it, but I’m still heavy sighing.

Also, with all the sad events for me this year, I have to say that this is one year I will not be sad to see go. Of course, sad, mournful, stressed or frightened it has to be said: it is a learning lesson. The problem is who would want to have another event to put my new found knowledge to use on? NOT!!!

So, since it is black Friday as you read this, let me tell you why I’m thankful for it. I love it! Try to think of me out there in the mobs of shoppers pawing through the bargains, having myself a jolly good time even though I don’t need to buy any of it. YES, I’m one of those people who loves crowds, mobbed stores, stuffed parking lots and shopping, shopping, shopping. It really is ‘the bad’ stress reliever for me, while letting me indulge in good stress, fun stress, happy stress.

Okay, as I’ve said, I don’t need to buy a thing, but you’d be surprised at how comforting getting out there is that mass of humanity is for soothing my brain pan. (Anyone getting ready to suggest nature and/or animals to me, notice my hands are up and in karate stance) So if you hate all the hubbub of the malls and stores; try to think of me enjoying myself, flailing away, healing, wishing for a good old fashion cat fight over some useless item, and the best part: I’M working off all those thousands of extra calories I ate yesterday and coming home without having bought a thing. I hope.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Thank you for stopping by but

The Working Stiffs are taking the day off to enjoy the holiday.

Best wishes to all for a happy Thanksgiving!

We will pick up our regular blogging schedule tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving in the Writerly World

By Tamara Girardi

So, tomorrow's the big day. Turkey day.

For me, it's a day that I don't have to cook, I get to eat two huge, delicious dinners, and I can spend the early part of the day finalizing edits on my manuscript. To be more specific, I'll be reading the pages aloud one last time before submitting it (cue vibrant marching band playing my private, writing fight song - I so need one of those).

Hopefully agents will fall in love with the manuscript. So will editors, booksellers, and readers (the marching band is really playing now!). Not if, but when that happens, there will be many people to thank.

My colleagues on this blog, for instance. Members of Sisters in Crime, Backspace and PennWriters. My first readers. My family, especially my husband. My dog for keeping my toes warm while I write.

Then there are my favorite writerly resources. Since I'm so thankful for them, I'd like to share them with you.

First, books:
  1. On Writing by Stephen King
  2. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
  3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  4. Story by Robert McKee
  5. How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey (not the controversial one)
  1. Query Shark - a must if you're planning to query agents soon
  2. Former literary agent Nathan Bransford - particularly the Agent for a Day posts
  3. Literary agent Janet Reid
  4. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner
  5. Former literary agent Colleen Lindsay
  1. Backspace (next conference May 2011)
  2. PennWriters (next conference May 2011)
  3. Write Stuff (next conference March 2011)

Also, I have to say I wouldn't be anywhere without my ghost-hunting friends at Spirited Ghost Hunting. I can't wait to go on another hunt with you all!

So, I'm curious. What resources would you add to this list?

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Waving Good-Bye to Pittsburgh...

By CJ Lyons

Hey again! Thanks to everyone at Working Stiffs for inviting me back! For those of you who don't know me, I'm CJ Lyons, native of central PA, pediatric ER doc who did her training in Pittsburgh, now turned bestselling medical suspense author.

I've written before about why Pittsburgh has such a strong hold on my heart and psyche, so much so that I set my Angels of Mercy series in Pittsburgh.

But now the Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE, and CRITICAL CONDITION) is coming to an end...insert tragic sobbing here...

Don't worry, it ends with a bang! The finale, CRITICAL CONDITION (due out November 30th) is an adrenalin rush of a ride that wraps up everything, hopefully with some twists and turns. Early reviews are calling it "a fantastic fast-paced finish," I call it: Die Hard in a hospital.

Only with some Pittsburgh weather thrown in....remember all that snow in February? Remember how a few of the smaller hospitals lost power (including one that also lost emergency power) along with areas in the rest of the county?

Guess what--I'd already written all that into CRITICAL CONDITION! It was kind of cool watching (from a safe distance as I no longer live in the snowbelt) the events I'd imagined unfold in real life.

Maybe not so fun for you guys, so sorry, lol!

Since I'm not much for farewells, I wanted to send my characters off with a blast before I move a little bit south. Not so far from Pittsburgh, in fact.

My new series is co-written with Erin Brockovich (yes, THE Erin B, how cool is that?!?) and the first book, ROCK BOTTOM, is set in West Virginia. I actually fictionalized a small coal mining town where I used to spend my college breaks.

Guess you can leave the rust belt, but you can't take the rust belt out of the girl, or something like that!

I can't help it. Not only because I grew up and lived most of my life in PA, but also because there's just something so authentic and universal about what "my" people live and experience that I feel this need to share it with the world at large.

What about you? What would you want the rest of the world to know about Pittsburghers? Would you ever leave? If so, what memories would you most want to take with you?

For me, it's the memories of the used-to-be annual Pitt-PSU football games that dominated my family's holiday celebrations...well, that and my autograph from one of my childhood heroes, Lynn Swann....oh and how about those home-made pierogies during Lent…and Pamela's pancakes…and….

Share your favorite Pittsburgh memory in the comments below and one lucky reader will win a copy of URGENT CARE, the book that sets everything in motion for the Angels of Mercy finale, CRITICAL CONDITION.

Thanks for reading!


As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.

Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available now and the series finale, CRITICAL CONDITION, hits stores November, 2010. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich.

To learn more about CJ and her work, go to http://www.cjlyons.net/.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Be Thankful!

By Wilfred Bereswill

Sorry for the lengthy blog, but I'm making up for last time when I forgot.  So you get double the blog for your money today.  What a bargain!

As you all should know by now, our theme this month is being thankful.  First of all, one of the things that makes me most thankful is when I have my entire family together.  That is rare these days since my two younger daughters are full time college students living 120 miles away and my oldest daughter is married. But this week I have my college girls back for Thanksgiving break and we get regular visits from my oldest daughter. She tends to do her grocery shopping in our pantry while they are saving for the new house. Of course she doesn't take the crap we will probably never eat, but I guess that's our fault.

A little more than a week ago I enjoyed reading about Ramona's travel adventures. For me traveling has been a way of life.  And just to be clear ladies, I will not post a picture of George Clooney from up in the air.

Whenever I hear travel stories, I get a little grin on my face. I’m not the kind to “One Up” people, but I know deep inside I have most other travel stories trumped.

It all started in late January 2008. I was sent to China to take several Anheuser-Busch executives on an Environmental inspection tour of our China facilities. The trip started innocently enough. We left on a cold mid-January Saturday and flew into Hong Kong for meetings.  I was traveling on frequent flyer tickets and the flight in first class was…well first class. No hitches, great weather, good movie selection, enough time to get drunk and sober before landing.  The rooms at the Hyatt were magnificent with a gorgeous view of Hong Kong Harbour.

My room at the Hyatt in Hong Kong
Monday morning we boarded a high-speed train for a short trip to Guangzhou (actually FoShan, home of Bruce Lee) where we were building a new Bi-Wei Pijou (Budweiser Beer) brewery. After meetings with the government, we went out to play a round of golf on a rather exclusive course.  It was on the ride back to the hotel that brought hints of things to come.

Golf with your friends
Our driver had heard rumblings of an ice storm that was just getting started in central China. Apparently this storm had some of the main train tracks to Beijing shut down. He wanted to take us by the train station to see the crowd. I will never forget the sight. We wound up being engulfed in a sea of humanity as we tried to drive through the street near the station. People were everywhere. Most were huddled under highway overpasses, in doorways, under ledges and anywhere else they could find to get out of the cool mist. After an hour of nudging people out of the way with the bumper of the Honda Accord, we got back to the hotel. At one point, it was rumored that over 500,000 people were stuck at the Guangzhou Train Station. Personally, I think that number was low.

Guangzhou Train Station January 2008
Okay, so you’re thinking, “Big deal. It wasn’t you that was stuck.”

Well, I need to add some back story. Chinese New Year in 2008 was on February 7th.   It's based on a lunar calendar so it changes every year.  The weeks before and after Chinese New Year are when most of China travels. And it is the absolute worst of times to have one of the biggest ice storms to hit China in decades. It was bad enough that it has its own Wiki page. The group I was with had planned to go from Hong Kong to Guangzhou to Wuhan to Shanghai to Qingdao to Harbin. After Harbin, I was going to fly back to Beijing by myself and meet up with the Environmental Manager from Wuhan and we were going to host some government meetings in Tangshan. I was then supposed to fly from Beijing to Shanghai to San Francisco to St. Louis.

The red line is our route. The blue area is where the ice storm hit.
On our last evening in Guangzhou, I ventured out to the markets with my friend, Jenny Jiang, the Environmental Manager from Wuhan. I had heard the internal rumblings that Anheuser Busch was being targeted for takeover and we would be cutting costs, so I figured I’d better do some shopping while I could. I didn't know how soon I would go back to China.  As it turns out, it was my last trip to date. 

I bought a suitcase full of souvenirs (about $200 USD worth of items) and asked my friend to tote them with her to Wuhan and then bring them up to me in Beijing at the end of my trip. While it seemed like a good idea at the time because I wouldn't have to lug that suitcase with me to all the cities we were visiting, it turned out to be a horrible decision. That suitcase never made it to Beijing and is still in China somewhere.

With word of the approaching storm, we canceled the Wuhan portion of the trip (sent the Wuhan people back home) and flew directly to Shanghai; then to Qingdao and on to Harbin with nary a hitch except a few minor delays. You see, we were circling around the eastern edge of the storm. Wuhan, which is not very far west of Shanghai (see map above) got pounded with almost a foot of ice paralyzing the city. See the links to some of the pictures below.  They were taken at East Lake Park where I used to hang out on my weekends in Wuhan.

Link 1
Link 2

We did note that the domestic side of the various airports were quickly becoming crowded with early New Year travelers. Counters were swamped, agents were overwhelmed and tensions were escalating. Since we were generally traveling 1st class, we were mostly spared the mass of people crowding the counters. There are few orderly lines in China. Mostly it’s a free for all. Add tension to that and you can quickly slide into a chaotic state. Oh, and for fun, throw in the language barrier.

While in Harbin, China’s far north, I had the pleasure of visiting the Harbin Ice Festival. One of the most awesome things I have ever experienced. Check out the blog I did on it back in February 2008

Harbin Ice Festival
The Thursday before the Chinese New Year week, I broke off from the group and headed for Beijing. That night I was supposed to meet up with my friend Jenny from Wuhan and my suitcase full of gifts. She called to tell me that she was iced in. I thought about trying to get an earlier flight home, but I was on a frequent flyer ticket that could not be changed. I had two days in Beijing to kill. Not a big deal. I had a friend set me up with a tour guide and went to the Great Wall again. I had some really nice dinners with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, but, since I’d been in China for 2 weeks by that time, I was anxious to get home.

Will at the Wall

On Saturday morning at 6 AM (5 PM Friday night, St. Louis Time) I arrived at the Beijing airport for my flight to Shanghai. People were everywhere. I literally couldn’t see the doors. I managed to find a baggage porter (well, he found me) and I flipped him a $100 yuan bill (about 12 dollars.) Smartest thing I could have done. This man loaded my bags on his cart and shoved people from his path to get me to the China Southern first class counter. Words just can’t do it justice…the volume of the voices, the shoving, the mental overload. After an hour, I got my boarding pass, checked my bags and managed to have a petite desk clerk escort me through security to the first class lounge. Two hours later, when I should have been heading to the gate, I checked with the agent. Their English was almost as bad as my Chinese. But they managed to say, “Wait in here. No go yet.” I waited, checking every 30 minutes or so. No signs, no monitors, just the tiny girls repeating, “No go yet.”  While I can survive with my meager Chinese, I am, by no stretch of the imagination, conversational.

Talk about tough trips, use one of these.
Four hours after I arrived in the lounge, I heard someone speaking English. I went to find a China Southern employee that spoke passable English. He told me that Shanghai Airport was closed due to ice. I immediately called my travel agent back in the states. Yes, my frequent flyer ticket, as issued, was useless.  A one–way First Class ticket direct from Beijing to Chicago cost $13,000. Yes, I didn’t hold down the "0" key too long. Business Class was $10,000. I knew the answer, but I called my boss to get permission to buy a ticket. He said, “Enjoy the weekend in Beijing and call the normal travel agent about my Frequent Flyer ticket on Monday.” Even at $300 USD per night, my room at the Kempinsky Hotel was a bargain.

I love China and I miss not going there, but at the time I was sick of it and Beijing would be a madhouse with the New Year celebrations. I wanted out. I called the travel agent and got a price for a one way ticket in coach - $1,000. It was now noon in China, I had been in the airport for 6 hours and the flight to Chicago was at 6 PM. I called my boss and he okayed it.

Now I had to get my bags back. Remember my bags? I checked them on a flight to Shanghai. I found the English speaking agent and he took me to the baggage office through the worsening crowd. Unbelievably, an hour later I had my bags back and made my way to the less crowded international side of the airport. With the magic of some flirty Chinese words I learned early on (Ni hen piao liang.) and my United Airlines Global Services Status I managed to schmooze my way up to Business Class.  HA!  $10,000 ticket for a mere $1,000 and a little flirting.  I still think it was my sexy smile, flirtatious attitude and calm demeanor that did the trick.

So, it’s 2 PM China Time (1 AM St. Louis time) and I grab a bowl of noodles and a Budweiser at a restaurant in the airport, then make my way to the lounge. I boarded the plane at 5 PM and the flight took off promptly at 6 PM (5 AM St. Louis.)

Polar Route 1 at 40,000 feet. Yes I took this picture.
The flight over the north pole, Polar Route 1 as the pilots call it, was fairly smooth and uneventful. I even managed to get a couple of hours sleep on the 13 hour flight. The pilots announced we were making our initial descent, so it was a good time to get things together.

Twenty minutes later, the big 747 began bouncing around and the pilot announced we were holding in a pattern.

An hour later, we were still flying bumpy circles over O’Hare.

Finally, the plane banked and the flaps and landing geared deployed. Big sigh of relief, I still might make my connection to St. Louis.  Just as I relaxed, things went south.  And when I say things, I mean the 747 with us on it.  We were shrouded in clouds so I couldn’t tell how far off the ground we were when the engines spooled up. the landing gear retracted and we started gaining altitude.

The pilot came back on and said we would be heading to Indianapolis. “Wait!, What the hell happened to Chicago?”

He further explained that there was wind shear in the area.  We couldn't land and we were too low on fuel to hold anymore. As we touched down in Indianapolis a mere half hour later, the pilot assured us that we would take on fuel and be right back up in the air.

“Uh-huh.  Yeah, right.”

Five hours later we were still on the ground, in the plane waiting. You see, they explained that Indianapolis did not have Customs, so we could not deplane. Damn any passenger Bill of Rights, U.S. Customs trumps all.  Thankfully I have that sexy smile, flirtatious attitude and calm demeanor and was not crammed into coach.

See, I cleverly worked in the Giving Thanks Theme.

Finally, we get fuel and take off. The flight to O’Hare is short, but of course, it is now Noon (Sunday), China time and 11 PM (Saturday) Chicago/St. Louis time. All the connections to St. Louis have long been cancelled, and flights for the next day are booked solid; standby only.  All the hotels near the airport were booked. All the one-way rental cars were long gone.

Only one thing left to do. Rent a local rental car and drive it to St. Louis anyway. Surprise AVIS!

The one nice thing is that traffic was light.  I cleared the Chicago City limits by midnight and pulled up in my driveway at 4:30 AM. (5:30 PM China Time.) About 36 hours after I left the hotel in Beijing. I had visions of the automobile scene in Plains, Trains & Automobiles in my mind the whole time.  I don’t know how I managed to keep my eyes open, but I arrived safely.

So that’s my travel story.  Be damn thankful it's not yours.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What I'm Thankful For

by Laurissa

This month’s suggested theme is things for which we are thankful. This past year there have been a multitude of things that I’ve been grateful for.  But instead of listing the more serious things that I’m thankful for I’m going to share with you a not so serious thing.

Like everyone else I’ve had to tighten my financial belt a couple of notches over the past year. Towards that end, I’ve stopped buying the weekly entertainment magazines that are prominently displayed at the grocery store check-outs just pleading to be bought (shhh…please don’t let anyone else know that I used to buy them). To be honest, I didn’t know if I could do it, but somehow I’ve managed to soldier through the withdrawals with the help of a wonderful new substitute that hasn’t cost me any more than what I already pay for my basic cable, and that’s watching whatever Real Housewives series is currently airing on TV. So there you have it, I admit, I’m grateful for the Housewives! They amuse me.

And last but not least, I’m ever so thankful for, drum roll please… chocolate. Chocolate is the perfect food for all occasions, and I’m extra grateful when I have the chance to watch the Housewives while eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream! 

Do you have any guilty pleasures that you’re thankful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

By Paula Matter

As some of you know, I along with fellow Stiffs Pat Remick and Ramona Long attended the Crime Bake conference in Dedham, MA. Awesome conference and I hope to see a couple more Stiffs attend next year. Hint, hint.

Two highlights for me came on Sunday when I won prizes. A new event this year was the Scavenger Hunt which I believe was sponsored by the New England SinC chapter. Attendees were given a sheet of paper and had to go around collecting signatures from people who matched the description. Such as: First Time At Crime Bake which Ramona signed; NE SinC Board Member which Pat signed. Twenty-five blocks and I had a ball meeting new people and talking with others I already knew. Hank Philippi Ryan signed Anthony Winner, and the bookseller signed Grandfather. A great way to interact with other attendees.

To top it off, I won a book by Margaret Maron!

The other prize I won Sunday morning was as one of four winners of the Flashwords contest.

Contest Description: Use at least ten of the listed “Title Words” from novels by Charlaine Harris in a flash fiction story of no more than 150 words. Include a crime or suggestion of a crime. Keep it clean. Write in English.

Title Words: Bedroom, Bone, Club, Corpse, Counselor, Dark, Dead, Family, Fool, Grave, Heels, Ice, Landlord, Living, Pick, Scene, Secret, Surprise, Trollop, Worse

Dead to Me and Worse, I Paid for Law School
I didn’t have to pick the lock, thanks to the foolish landlord. Grateful he didn’t know about Vinnie recently dumping me for that trollop at the VFW club, I moved quickly through my ex-fiancĂ©’s living room and into the bedroom. I grabbed Vinnie’s revolver, then hurried to the VFW.
Now, crouched over her corpse, the gun resting against my hip bone, I pictured the scene outside my cramped, dark hiding place. Vinnie’s family--the rotten heels--had decided to go through with the unnecessary-but-paid-for bachelor party. An excuse to celebrate Vinnie winning his first case.
I had five bullets left. One for each of them.
I waited for the secret signal--what would’ve been Trollop’s cue to jump out of the cake.
“Grave situation, Counselor, we’re out of ice!”
I put a smile on my face, my finger on the trigger, pushed the hinged lid up and yelled, “Surprise!”

Mo Walsh, the woman in charge of the Flashwords contest, read the story beautifully, perfectly. Winning this prize two years in a row tells me I need to stick with short stories! My prize was a bottle of Vampire wine, a nice Merlot. Other choices were mugs or T-shirts.
 And with Crime Bake over, so is the 2010 conference season for me. I'm thinking of attending Malice Domestic and Pennwriters next year. And Crime Bake, of course.

How about you? What will you be attending? Do you have a favorite annual conference or writerly event you can't miss? What do you look for when attending these events? What's your most memorable moment?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

PSP Citizen's Police Academy: Week 5

Crime Codes and Use of Force

By Annette Dashofy

The first half of week #5 was dedicated to the crime codes. The book dealing with the topic makes War and Peace look like a brochure, so we skimmed through most of them. But a few sparked further discussion. Here are some of the notes I took:

A sexual assault victim’s body is the crime scene. As such, they shouldn’t change clothes or wash, but should go to the hospital where the staff is trained to handle such things and can collect evidence.

The difference between “robbery” and “burglary” is ROBBERY is when someone is in the house or if there is forced used; BURGLARY is when no one is home at the time of the break-in.

Unlocked cars are a great target. It’s amazing what people leave in their vehicles in plain sight—cell phones, wallets, purses, packages, etc. Think about it. Do you leave your car in the driveway, unlocked, with your garage door opener inside? A thief can take your garage door opener and gain access to your house. Most people don’t lock the door between the garage and their house, so that garage door opener is all they need.

The technical term for credit card fraud is “Access device fraud.”

With regards to identity theft, video surveillance is great for the police. So many transactions are now recorded. It’s a terrific aid to catching someone using a stolen credit card. By the way, if you suspect your credit card numbers or identification has fallen into the wrong hands, you should immediately contact the three credit bureaus and have them red flag your accounts in case anyone tries to open MORE accounts in your name. Identity thefts have been targeting senior citizens. Make sure your parents and grandparents know to NEVER give out any information over the phone. And finally, do take advantage of getting your free credit reports. You can receive three separate reports annually. All FREE!

One final question came up during the discussion. A fellow CPA student asked, “How do you develop a thick skin to deal with child endangerment cases?” The response was, “You have to become the voice of the child.”

The second half of class was led by Trooper Frank Murphy of the crime unit who discussed Use of Force.

The first thing he did was point out the sign in the class room which reads: Probable Cause: A set of facts and circumstances that would induce a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that a particular person has committed a specific crime.

Trooper Murphy wanted us to take special note of the words REASONABLY INTELLIGENT and PRUDENT.

A citizen is allowed to use whatever force necessary IF the citizen (you or me) believes they are in danger of serious bodily injury, of losing their life, of being raped, or of being kidnapped. The police are allowed to use whatever force necessary under those same situations, but also to protect others.

A police officer may use the minimum amount of force necessary to affect an arrest.

Some scary thoughts: there are virtually no more fist fights in schools. Guys use guns. Girls use knives or razor blades. New cops coming on the job today have a 100% chance of getting into a gunfight at sometime in their career (provided they stick with the job). The population is becoming more violent and more willing to use deadly force faster.

According to the Castle Doctrine, if you are in your home and someone forcibly enters it, you don’t have to retreat (however, if you can, you should). You do have to be able to justify why you stayed (refer back to the REASONABLY INTELLIGENT and PRUDENT part). This doesn’t just refer to your home, but also applies if you’re camping or at your place of employment. You can use the force necessary to stop an action. IMPORTANT NOTE: it’s not to kill. It’s to stop an action.

Whatever you do, you must be able to articulate WHY you took the action you did to a D.A. and to a jury.

If you find yourself in such a position has having had to use deadly force to stop an intruder, there are three sentences you should be prepared to use when the police arrive:

1. “Officer, thank God you’re here” (Shows you aren’t the bad guy.)
2. “I was in fear for my life.”
3. “With all due respect, I want to talk to my attorney.”

Personally, I hope I never have to use them.

Next time: Firearms Safety and the Firearms Simulator!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Character Love

By C.L. Phillips

Do you remember the last time you fell in love?  With a character?  Sigh.  I have a nasty confession to make.  I've fallen in love with Suzanne Collins' heroine Katniss. 

The first time I fell in love was with Nathaniel Bowditch, the main character in Jean Lathham's 1955 Newberry Award winning book Carry on Mr. Bowditch.  I discovered Mr. Bowditch in the county library, squeezed between two other books.  The title drew me in.  Carry on, Mr. Bowditch didn't sound like a child's book.  It was my first chapter book, the first time I discovered reading could transport me in time, place, and even gender.  Part of me identified with fiercely independent Nathaniel.  Subsequently, I begged my mother to take me to the library every week.  Somehow she managed to turn the trip into a reward for good behavior.  Practice the guitar every day for thirty minutes, or no trip to the library.  Guess she knew how much I loved books.

Imagine my delight when I discovered Miss Marple, and the fact that she was in more than one book.  I devoured each story I could find and over time moved on to Hercule Poirot.  But it was different.  Although I loved the mystery, I didn't fall in love with Miss Marple or Hercule.  But I did  love England and Europe.  And my love for travel started to blossom. I saved my real love for Sherlock Holmes.  But I must confess, I cheated on Sherlock when I read my first Lord Peter Wimsey novel.  Now there was a man who could make my heart sing.

My next crush was Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware.   A little wounded, always in danger, and a guitar lover.  Robert Langdon from the DaVinci Code came close, but the truth is I couldn't get to really know him in only two books.  And as for Stephanie Plum, Ranger and Joe Morelli, I lived near Trenton for too many years to be transported to another world, but I read them for the belly laughs.

 So what does it take to fall in love with a  main character?  For me, it's about their strength of character.  The fact that they are willing to overcome their own limitations in order to meet a challenge.  I'm willing to fall in love with any one of them, male or female.

This summer I read Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Deal Breaker, Long Lost, The Narrows, The Brass Verdict, Echo Park, The Closers, Finger Licking Fifteen, Buck Fever, The Lady Elizabeth, and Death in a Strange Country.   All were enjoyable reads.  But Hunger Games drew me into a world similar to my own and yet deadly different.  I find myself asking, "What would Katniss do?"  She plucked the dormant rebel chord in me, one that had been silent since I met Nathaniel Bowditch.

I find myself dreaming new dreams now.  Not of escape through literature, but of crafting a world where one's actions are led by true conviction.  Maybe that's the secret to falling in love with a character, at least for me.  What makes you fall in love?

Write on!

Monday, November 15, 2010


by Gina Sestak

The theme of the month is things for which we are thankful.

Everyone who's been reading my posts for the last few years knows I love movies, so it's a no-brainer that I'm thankful for cinema magic.  What you may not know is that my very favorite form of film is the musical, so I guess I'm thankful for those most of all.

Huh?  you may ask.  Aren't musicals kind of silly?  I mean, people breaking into song in public places, suddenly dancing in the street and wearing fancy costumes.  That's not realistic!

So who said movies have to be realistic?  The characters on film change size from tiny little ants seen from a high-set window to massive faces speaking at us from the screen.  They travel in a matter of seconds from LA to London or the jungles of Vietnam or the deserts of North Africa.  One person can age 30 years in minutes, be born, grow up and die before we finish eating half that tub of popcorn.

Movies are not realistic.  They are works of art, and musical sequences add a subtext of emotion that may be difficult, if not impossible, to express solely through dialogue.

[Unfortunately, I had trouble importing youtube videos into this post, so you'll have to click on the links to view the musical interludes mentioned below.]

I first realized I loved musicals when I saw Oliver!, the song-and-dance version of Oliver Twist.  Watch how this scene captures the young orphan's wonder at the bustle of London life, while keeping Dickens' focus on the contrast between poverty and wealth.  Spectacular, isn't it?  Can you imagine replacing it with dialogue?
       Oliver:    It's nice to wake up in a clean room instead of with those other kids at Fagin's.
       Servant:  Just look out the window.  [Scene of people hawking wares in street.]
       Oliver:    Wow.  Having money really makes a difference, even though there are a few things money can't buy.
Doesn't have the same magic, does it?

My favorite film of all time is Reefer Madness - The Movie Musical.   No kidding.  This version of the 1930s anti-drug movie is a hilarious satire that questions both the dictates of a misinformed government and the power of manipulated peer pressure.  Not to mention featuring one of the most extreme reactions to a toke imaginable, when innocent high school student Jimmy is lured to the reefer den with the promise of a dance lesson.  Watch this.  [Warning - it's a bit risque, with near nudity and sexual content.  If you think you'd be offended, please ignore this link.]  If you really want to be offended, watch this one, too.  If you prefer something tame and literary, or would like to see what Jimmy was like before encountering the evil weed, try this.

Then there's Mamma Mia, the story of a woman who comes face to face with her past when old friends and lovers come to attend her daughter's wedding.  Here's a sample, full of infectious exuberance.  [Oops.  That's kind of risque, too, but only a little.  Blink when Christine Baranski takes the red flower out of the vase and you'll miss it.]  Who would have thought Julie Walters (Ron's mom in the Harry Potter films) could move like that?  Or Meryl Streep?

Lately, I've been getting into Bollywood films, one of the more extreme versions of the movie musical.  The incomprehensibility of the lyrics bothers a word-oriented English-speaker like myself, but the amazing dancing more than makes up for that.  Witness the following sequence from Dil Se, a serious movie in which a radio reporter (played by Shah Rukh Khan, the guy in the red jacket) falls in love with a mysterious woman who has a dangerous secret.  I originally saw this video playing on a screen in an Indian restaurant, and didn't realize it was from a film.  My first thought was, "Those people are out of their minds!"

My current favorite Bollywood film is Om Shanti Om (click this link to watch the trailer), which pokes fun at films and stardom but has a wonderful (albeit strange) story line of love and loss, murder and justice, death and rebirth.  It was hard to pick something from it to link to - I like it all.  There's a long party scene in which many of the stars of Indian cinema make cameo appearances, and a hilarious music video called The Pain of Disco.  I finally decided to include this sequence, in which a Bollywood bit player (Shah Rukh Khan again), who has a major crush on a superstar, imagines himself in her latest movie.  I really like this silly stuff.

What's all this got to do with writing? you've probably been wondering.  A lot.  There's more to writing than putting words down on a page, or crafting an accurate description.  We have to convey emotion, too, and make our words do the work of the performers in these videos.  Our words have to sing and dance and act upon the emotions of the reader.  That's what separates well-written prose from a traffic report, in my humble opinion.

So, how do you feel about musicals?  Love them?  Hate them?  Please comment below and, if you like musical movies, what is your favorite?  Why?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Three Stiffs at Crime Bake

Hope no one minds that I'm jumping in here really quickly with a brief report on 3 Working Stiffs meeting up at this weekend's New England Crime Bake for Mystery Writers and Readers.

Ramona (carrying a red editor's pen), Paula in costume, and Pat in red hair extension, blood-red jewelry and vampire cape

I was there as conference co-chair, and Paula Matter and I first met outside the virtual world at last year's Crime Bake. (Paula, by the way, is now a winner of the conference's Flashwords contest two years in a row). But this year we met up with Ramona DeFelice Long, another Working Stiff, and made sure we had a photo taken before the Red and Black Banquet and Vampire Ball (in honor of fabulous Guest of Honor Charlaine Harris). Paula was dressed as -- well, what kind of monster? A writer at work.... I'll let her explain the costume but I'm sorry you can't clearly see the creepy, clear plastic mask on her back. She also needs to explain whether this really is how she dresses while she's writing!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Three Travel Adventures

by Ramona DeFelice Long

As you read this, I am on my way to Crime Bake. It’s my first time, and I am excited to be traveling with my writing friend and colleague, KB Inglee, by train to Boston. It has been my experience that traveling is best when it is uneventful. Today, as I wing my way towards a weekend with storytellers, I thought I’d share some travel stories that were not so uneventful.

#1. Setting: Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Event: Honeymoon. Mode of transportation: Air shuttle.

Cape Cod was our honeymoon destination. Mid-week, we took the ferry to Nantucket. I was a new bride, and I must have been high on bliss, because when my groom suggested we return to the Cape by the fifteen minute air shuttle, I said “Sure, honey!” I should have said, “Define air shuttle.” Or ask, “Why does the ticket person need to know my weight?” No, silly me said, “Sure, honey!”

When I saw the size of the plane and heard that it sat a full load of 8, I popped a Dramamine. Half an hour later….heck, I have no idea what happened half an hour later. I was zonked on Dramamine.

I came to, sort of, during descent and heard the pilot’s warning that the airport was chaos because of The Wedding. “What wedding?” I asked, wondering if he meant ours. He didn’t. Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger were being married the next day at Hyannis Port. In the excitement of my own wedding, I’d missed that.

He was right about the chaos, but he forgot to warn us about the paparazzi. As we disembarked, flash bulbs went off in our faces. I clung to my husband’s arm, trying to focus and smile and look my best in all my honeymoonish, woozy glory.

The glory was short-lived. A photographer called out, “Bride’s guest or groom’s?” Before we could answer, the pilot climbed down beside us.

“Don’t waste your pics,” he told the paps. “They’re nobody.”

#2. Setting: New York City. Event: Big Apple Vacation. Mode of transportation: Taxi.

Our first time in NYC, we stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria. It was fabulous. On Saturday night, the hotel hosted a society wedding. We sat in the bar, sipping Cokes ($12 a pop) and watching the Beautiful People. On Monday morning, we went to the Statue of Liberty. As a tourist, I felt it was my duty to invest in a bright green foam Statue of Liberty crown.

While we were gone, the Prime Minister of India arrived at the hotel. Not long after the PM arrived, a group of Sikhs came to protest. It was a peaceful protest. But it was still a protest, so the New York City Bomb Squad and Riot Police were called. By the time we got back, the hotel was surrounded and the streets were in gridlock. Our taxi driver was annoyed. He got us as close as he could and then, basically, told us to get out of his cab. We were tourists. We got out of his cab.

We made our way towards the hotel. My husband approached a scary dude with RIOT POLICE on his chest. Hubby held out our room key. To my surprise, RIOT POLICE man yelled at the line to let us through the gauntlet. He smiled at me and said, “Enjoy your stay, ma’am,” which seemed odd coming from a guy holding a shield, wearing a face mask and protective leg guards and carrying a whole lotta serious fire power.

When we got to our room, I realized why he was so kind. I’d walked through a line of heavily armed peace officers and protestors while wearing a bright green foam Statue of Liberty crown. I’m sure RIOT POLICE man let us through because he was just plain embarrassed for me.

#3. Setting: The clean and friendly skies. Event: My sister’s wedding. Mode of transportation: Commercial airline.

My sister’s wedding was a happily anticipated event, except for one little thing. My oldest baby was suffering a little blockage problem. Despite a couple of baby firecrackers and copious amounts of prune juice, the child refused to go boom-boom. For four days. Frantic, I called our pediatrician. He said my son--and I--both just needed to relax.

You know the look of horror that spreads across waiting passengers when they spot a small child? Multiply that by two for twins and then by a thousand when one is cranky because he hasn’t gone boom-boom in four days.

The plane was packed. We couldn’t sit together. I sat in the second to last row. It was close to the bathroom, so I volunteered to sit with Cranky Blocked Baby.

We were about fifteen minutes into the flight when my son decided to take the pediatrician’s advice. He “relaxed.”

He relaxed through his diaper, down his legs, up his back, soaking his car seat pad. The sounds and smells of his relaxation were so dramatic that, six rows ahead, my husband stood up and looked back at us with horror. And then he pretended he’d never seen us before in his life.

I can’t tell you about the looks the passengers around us gave me. They still give me chills at night.

I took my son into the tiny bathroom. I think everyone on that plane prayed I’d flush the two of us into the sky. Trust me, I thought about it.

I did my best, but a power washer could not have cleaned off the child. Who, to the annoyance of everyone around, had the nerve to be sweet and gurgly and HAPPY for the rest of the stinky flight.

So there are my top three eventful travel stories: The paparazzi, the riot police, and the Case of the Exploding Diaper. I hope this train ride to Boston goes off without incident. In keeping with this month’s theme, if I arrive at my first Crime Bake with my dignity intact, I will be thankful.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

PSP Citizen's Police Academy: Week 4

Drug Recognition Experts and Traffic Stops

By Annette Dashofy

This evening’s class kicked off with a Power Point presentation by Officer Wolfe of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Officer Wolfe is a Drug Recognition Expert in the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, the purpose of which is to look for drivers impaired by substances other than alcohol. In this case, the term “drugs” may not necessarily be used in the medical sense. For example, airplane glue is considered a drug for this purpose.

To illustrate the importance of this work, one night during a weekend, 2% of drivers may test positive for alcohol. But 16% are impaired by drugs, either legal drugs or illegal ones. They are still “impaired.”

A DRE is a police officer who has been trained extensively in detecting and recognizing impairment caused by substances other than alcohol. The program was developed by the LAPD in the early 1970s. Officers there were encountering obviously impaired drivers with a Blood Alcohol of zero. These officers began to educate themselves to use diagnostic techniques. The NHTSA got on board with the program in the early 1980s and by 1987, Arizona, Colorado, New York, and Virginia had programs in operation.

Pennsylvania became involved in October 2004. By the time we had officers trained, the program was actually up and running in mid 2005. In the past 5 years, 77 Pennsylvania officers have been certified as DREs. DUI and drug arrests increased over 76%.

DRE training contains three phases with written exams in each. Phase III alone contains 100 hours of hands-on training in a rehab facility or jail. The final exam is 8 to 16 hours long with 5 separate sessions including essay type questions.

Drug Categories include:

Central Nervous System Depressants such as barbiturates, anti-anxiety tranquilizers, anti-depressant tranquilizers, and anti-psychotics.

(Note: the term “doctor shop” is used to refer to someone who goes to different doctors to get different drugs.)

Stimulants such as cocaine and crack, amphetamines, and meth.

Hallucigens (which distort the senses) such as LSD, Ecstasy, Peyote, Psilocybin.

Dissociative Anesthetics inhibit pain by cutting off or dissociating the brain’s perception of pain. They induce a state of sedation, immobility, amnesia, and analgesia. An example would be ketamine, which is used extensively in veterinary practices.

Narcotic analgesics (pain killers) are big in Pittsburgh and include heroin, morphine, codeine, dilaudid, Demerol, methadone (used for treatment of addition, this is a synthetic morphine that lasts for 24 hours), and oxycontin.

Inhalants would include airplane glue, paint, breathable substances, volatile solvents, aerosols, and anesthetic gases. These create a short term high and are very damaging to the brain because they cut off oxygen and cause brain death.

Finally, there is cannabis which includes marijuana and hashish. The effects of these can last up to 24 hours and will show up in blood tests for up to 10 days or urine tests for 30 days.

There is a standardized and systematic 12 step process the DRE uses. The evaluation checklist is similar to a standard medical diagnosis procedure. Toxicology results have confirmed over 90% of these evaluations.

The second part of the class was Traffic Stops. We were supposed to go outside and role-play, but thanks to a torrential downpour, we were stuck inside. However, Trooper Chris Callaghan and Findley Township Police Officer Mike Zacios provided an entertaining as well as educational program.

If you are stopped by a police officer what should you do?

First, STAY IN THE CAR. Second, keep your hands in plain sight. And put on the dome light.

In the case of a woman driving alone, it’s fine to put on your four-ways, get in the slow lane, and roll down your window to signal for the officer to follow. Then drive to a safe place to stop.

But do so at a safe speed. If you’re being busted for speeding, do NOT continue at 90MPH!

By the way, driving to a safe spot isn’t only beneficial to the woman. Traffic stops are notoriously dangerous for the police, and they prefer to make the stop in a safe location, as well.

PA State Troopers have onboard computers now, and the first thing they do when making a traffic stop is to punch your info into it. If anything were to happen to the officer, there is a record of who their last stop was. Also everything is audio-video recorded. Often an officer will hold your driver’s license in front of the camera to get a recording of it for their safety.

And if you’re pulled over and disagree with the reasoning, TAKE YOUR HEARING. Don’t debate it on the berm of the road. Your behavior can affect the result of your hearing, either good or bad.

And one last tip from Trooper Callaghan: keep reflective gear in your car at all times in case you get a flat after dark. This can save your life.

Next Wednesday: Crime Codes and Use of Force

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Can I Tweet For You?

By Tamara Girardi

I woke up this morning in New York City. The sense of confusion when you open your eyes in a different place and wonder where you are doesn't last long here. The beeping taxis and cars rushing outside your window remind you pretty quickly.

I'm here for a writing conference, and I'm thankful to be here.

Yesterday, I had dinner with college friends at Dos Caminos in midtown. An open-faced shrimp quesadilla. A shared pitcher of sangria. A blueberry margarita with sugar on the rim. I was very thankful for all of those things.

My fabulous and recently agented critique partner emailed me her thoughts on the final 30 pages of my manuscript yesterday. She challenged a weakness in them, and I plan to spend the entire day either at a bookstore or Starbucks working to employ the changes she and I brainstormed. I'm immensely thankful for her and the fact I can spend the full day working on my writing.

But being thankful is not just about saying the words. It's about doing something about them. Let me explain.

Tomorrow, the Backspace Conference begins at the Radisson Martinique on the corner of W. 32nd and Broadway, and I will be the official Twitterer for the conference. I'll spend all day Thursday and Friday hanging on the words of other writers and literary agents, finding the gems that will be helpful to others who cannot attend the conference, and tweeting about them to my followers (@TamaraGirardi) and followers of Backspace (@bksp_org).

I'm thankful for this opportunity, and in order that you and other writers might be thankful of it, too, I'm asking for your help. If you knew a woman who was spending the next two days in a roomful of writers and agents (ha hemn, that would be me), discussing query letters, opening pages of manuscripts, and writing in general, what kinds of things would you want that woman (again, me) to look for and tweet about?

I'm thankful for your responses.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Giving Thanks for Crime (Bake)

In this month of Thanksgiving, I must say how thankful I am that a year of work will (hopefully) come to successful fruition this coming weekend at the New England Crime Bake for Mystery Readers and Writers.

While it has been exciting and stimulating to be co-chair of a conference totally run by mystery-loving volunteers, it also has been challenging and required much effort, as those of you who have been involved in similar ventures well know. It also has eaten up a great deal of writing time and I will be extremely thankful to get that back as of next Monday. 

Crime Bake, now in its ninth year, takes place in "DEAD"ham, Massachusetts, and is co-sponsored by the New England chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Traditionally the co-chairs are the presidents of these two organizations, which in my case means not only presiding over an active SinC chapter that spans six New England states, it also requires heading a committee of 20 people who hail from three of them -- and with someone I'd met only once before. In addition, this is just my second year on the Crime Bake Committee and it is MWANE President Margaret McLean's first so some of it we've been making up as we go along.

The rest comes from a strong cadre of dedicated fellow mystery writers who deeply love this confab, which is known as a writer's conference. Sure, there have been issues, false starts and some mistakes, but I am so grateful for the hard work of each of them because it has been vital to this venture and responsible for us selling out at the beginning of August.

Our guest of honor is the incredible Charlaine Harris (four, count 'em four, mystery series including the Sookie Stackhouse "Southern Vampire" books on which the HBO series True Blood is based). We will be joined by SinC National President Cathy Pickens and national MWA EVP Larry Light. Our lineup includes best-selling New England authors Dennis Lehane (personally invited by yours truly after stalking him at my local chain bookstore), Julia Spencer-Fleming, Hallie Ephron, Sheila Connolly and so many others, as well as exciting debut authors like Barb Ross and Steve Liskow. Our schedule of fascinating panels also features fabulous forensics experts, as well as 10 agents and editors from New York and New England. How can we not succeed?

This conference is always stimulating and energizing because the rooms are filled with so many enthusiastic mystery writers dedicated to improving their craft and talking about it. Let's face it: there also aren't many conferences where people can legitimately allow themselves to be excited about discussing murder or ways to dispose of a body. I'm also delighted to note that fellow Working Stiffs bloggers Paula Matter and Ramona DeFelice Long are attending this year, providing an opportunity for us to meet somewhere other than the virtual world and also pose for a photo at the Red & Black Banquet and Vampire Ball that we can share with you later.

As Crime Bake approaches, I realize how blessed I am to have found my way to the mystery genre and to now be part of such an amazing community of writers. And I'll be giving thanks for this experience throughout the entire weekend, both when I'm wearing my vampire cape and fangs -- and when I'm not.

I can't conclude this without thanking the entire Crime Bake Committee (in alphabetical order): Sybille Barrasso, Jan Brogan, Sheila Connolly, Sharon Daynard, Michele Dorsey, Hallie Ephron, Kate Flora, Janet HalpinRosemary Harris, Kathleen Hart, Roberta Isleib, Toni L.P. Kelner, Carol Lynn, Margaret McLean, Paula Munier, Ang PompanoRay Salemi, Mo Walsh, and Leslie Wheeler.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Where's Will?

Wilfred Bereswill had a senior moment over the weekend and forgot he had an obligation to blog for the Working Stiffs.  He would send his apologies, but he already forgot that he forgot.

Sometimes Wilfred is thankful for having difficulty remembering things.

Please forgive his sorry memory and talk among yourselves today.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Living in the past

by Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley

So here we are, and it’s November. Thanksgiving’s coming up, and the suggested topic for the month is things we are thankful for.

Luckily, there are lots of things I can mention. Life, health, health insurance, doctors, modern medicine, my children, their schools, my husband, his job, my book contracts, my computer, air travel, cars, grocery stores, toilet paper with Aloe Vera oil...

I could keep going, but I won’t. Much of it comes down to one thing: modern life. Or maybe more specifically, technology. The technology that allows us to live fairly long, fairly healthy lives of relative ease and comfort.

I had an idea for a historical mystery recently, and as a result I’ve given some thought to living in the past, specifically in the American West some hundred and thirty years ago. I’ve also spent quite some time over the past week watching episodes of a certain old TV-series.

(No, not Gunsmoke. I’m not that old.)

It was called The Young Riders and debuted in 1989. Set in the Wild West in 1860, it dealt with a half dozen or so young men (and a girl in disguise) who delivered mail for the Pony Express.

The Young Riders never did become a huge hit, but it held its own for a few years, and spawned what I can only describe as a huge fangurrrl following. Given the eye candy factor, it wasn’t surprising. It also launched the careers of a few actors who have gone on to do rather well for themselves, including Josh Brolin, who played a young Wild Bill Hickok, and who was my own personal eye candy of choice. To be honest, I still gush when I watch those old episodes, and it’s more than twenty years later.

Each real life Pony Express rider rode up to 75 miles per day, changing horses every 15 miles or so. Today, we can cover 75 miles in a matter of an hour on a nice smooth interstate. Then, it was an all day thing. Sometimes another rider wasn’t available at the next way station, so the first guy would have to keep going. The Pony Express covered the distance between St. Joseph, Missouri and San Francisco, California, in ten days. Riding for the Pony Express was hard, dangerous work; just check out this advertisement:

In 1860, the Pony Express owners, Russell, Majors and Waddell, used the 1860 presidential election as a way to promote the Pony Express and how fast it could deliver the U.S. Mail. On November 7, 1860, a Pony Express rider departed Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory, with the election results. Riders sped along the route, over snow-covered trails, and into Fort Churchill, Nevada Territory, and from there California’s newspapers received word of Lincoln’s election only seven days and seventeen hours after the East Coast papers, an unrivaled feat at the time.

Earlier this week, there were elections held in the here and now. I don’t know about you guys, but in my house, the TV stayed on and hubby got the news as the votes were tallied. Could you imagine waiting seven days and seventeen hours to find out who won?

So let’s hear it for modern technology, shall we? News at our fingertips... the ability to pick up the telephone and talk to someone halfway across the country, or halfway across the world, at the press of a few buttons, and from the car yet!... not to mention the ability to see episodes of my favorite TV show twenty years after it went off the air just by signing up for a free trial with Netflix!

So what's your favorite piece of newfangled technology? I have to admit to being rather partial to air conditioning myself, although I don't honestly see how I'd be able to do without any of it. I wouldn’t last a week in the Old West, and today, I’m thankful I don’t have to!

Thursday, November 04, 2010


By Paula Matter

Remember this?

Writing / revising is a lot like the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire television show.  (Stay with me, it might make sense after a bit). Writing is a solitary endeavor but there comes a time when other people are needed. Thankfully (Aha! I used this month’s theme!), I have many people who I go to for help. My lifelines, if you will. (I’m going to have to look that up later: If you will. If you will what?)
When I’m writing and get stuck, I have options. I can keep writing with a 50/50 chance I’ll get it right.

I can ask the audience (critique partners, other writerly types).

Or I can phone a friend. Fortunately for my friends I shuffle them around, so I’m not bugging the same ones constantly.

So far, none of the above, thankfully (!) has happened to me.
When looking up videos for this blog post, I learned there are more lifelines than there used to be. I didn’t spend time looking at the newer episodes, but maybe someone out there knows what they are and can share.
Apparently, the Phone A Friend lifeline has been dropped. I couldn’t imagine omitting that from my life.
Just for fun, I share this next clip.

May we all have the confidence and success of this man:

How about you? Who or what are your lifelines? Even if you’re not a writer, go ahead and share. We at Working Stiffs want to get to know our readers better!