Friday, January 26, 2007


Even though reading is difficult for me – my left eye is "lazy" as a result of a mild stroke – I listen to books on tape (or CD) every day. I am partial to mysteries, but I found a few a little outside my envelope and here's a partial list of what I have been reading:

THE LAST TEMPLAR by Raymond Khoury - Okay, this is my number one pick for a book with *everything* in it: The Vatican, the FBI, a damsel in distress, Knights Templar battles, French and Turkish history, romance on a Greek isle, murder at the museum, relics, shipwrecks, and lots of hidden secrets of the past. Oh, and a killer ending you don't see coming!

THE PRINCES OF IRELAND by Edward Rutherfurd - This is a history of Dublin from the ancient times forward told in vignettes so compelling you forget it's a history lesson.

LOST BOY, LOST GIRL by Peter Straub – and to a lesser extent, the sequel, IN THE NIGHT ROOM. I read THE BLACK HOUSE, written with Stephen King, and loved it. LOST BOY, LOST GIRL was a creepy supernatural trip through the eyes of a writer. But I gotta say, IN THE NIGHT ROOM left me dissatisfied. I will most assuredly read more of his stuff – I am looking forward to SHADOWLAND, MYSTERY, and FLOATING DRAGON.

Linda Fairstein – Read her Alex Cooper series in order for a rich development of all the side characters. I got a kick out of THE KILLS. She has nine books out and I have read five of them. I like the characters and the fact that they play along with Alex Trebek's "Jeopardy" – not everyone knows I was a JEOPARDY contestant back in 1987!

Tammi Hoag – I read KILL THE MESSENGER and was hooked – whatta thrill ride! I also liked PRIOR BAD ACTS and ASHES TO ASHES. Warning, these books offer some pretty horrific and explicit crime scene detail.

The Goldy Schulz Cooking/Catering Mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson. Anything with chocolate and murder (not to mention recipes!) is a-okay with me. DARK TORT is the latest. DOUBLE SHOT, CHOPPING SPREE, STICKS & SCONES are all a hoot. If you want to read them in order (there are 13 so far) start with DYING FOR CHOCOLATE and THE CEREAL MURDERS.

The Joanna Brady and J.P. Beaumont books by J.A. Jance. There's even one with both of them in it. They are so different as characters, and not just because they are different genders for starters, but they are such different *people*. She also has an Ali Reynolds series and some stand alone books. To say she is prolific just doesn't really do it – how about a writing dynamo? There are 17 J.P. Beaumont books, 12 Joanna Brady books, 2 Ali Reynolds, 3 thrillers and a book of poetry, for crying out loud!

Kathy Reichs – with 9 Temperance Brennan mysteries and four scholarly works on anthropology and forensics, there's enough to keep you in dank, shallow graves with plenty of rotting corpses for quite some time. I'm not a big fan of her TV series, Bones, based on the books (except that David Boreanaz, Angel from "Buffy" is a lead actor in it) but the books are great.

Well, this is a sort of spooky look into my recent reading habits – kinda heavy on thrills & spills and forensic evidence, with a major shot of poison and the supernatural.

So what lurks in your reading closet?


The new bathroom cabinet my Dear Husband assembled while I was at work yesterday. He's home recuperating fro hip surgery, but he has been busy, busy!

Three orchids blooming in the dining room – one tiny and bright yellow, one tiny and in that shade of lavender always called "orchid" and one in assertive brown stripes, huge and tiger-like.

A hawk sitting atop a light post this morning, head darting side to side, feathers glistening in the morning damp. And he was big!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


The death of Barbara Seranella shook me. I know she's been sick for a long time, having weathered two liver transplants. I know she put up a brave fight and that some fights you can't win. But she was only 50 years old. A successful mystery author, she was also a friend to many and a wonderful and funny lady.

Fifty might sound old to some of you out there. But in the scheme of things, or rather, from my perspective of 57, it is not. My mother died at the age of 34 – believe me, that's way too young for a mother to die. I have outlived her by many years and my health is not what it used to be, but I am not ready to go. I think of her every day – and my father, who was killed at age 58 – but I am not ready to go.

There is no age that seems right – maybe there is only a time when we are too tired to open our eyes again.

So what is it with writing memoirs? I do like reading interesting memoirs, especially if there is World War One or Egypt or a lot of love interest involved. Or if they are really *more* than memoirs (T.E. Lawrence comes to mind) and have other interesting things going on. But how do you decide if you have a memoir worth writing?

Well, I'm not going to put a minimum age limit on it – but I think you should have had a chance to live through something if you want your readers to live through it through you. And that something – whatever it is – needs to be either extraordinary or ordinary told in an extraordinary way. Stephen King's On Writing is both of these. His childhood was unusual and his writing is some of the best I have ever read.

I don't know what prompts people to write their memoirs – maybe a sense of sharing an unusual life, or imparting a life message of some sort, or just a nice ramble along the lines of "write what you know." Well done, they can be a treat to read. Not well done, and they can be as boring as Grampa Simpson's disjointed reveries.

So, what memoirs have you read and liked? Memoirs of a Geisha doesn't count, as fabulous as it was.


The plans for the new spa at my house, meticulously hand-colored by the pool guy, Evan, with colored pencils.

All the pets lined up on the back patio for breakfast, momentarily forgetting their territorial squabbles as they gazed expectantly at the glass door where the food bowl is brought out to them.

My Dear Husband eating Swedish Meatballs at IKEA the other night. He has recovered enough from his hip surgery to get out and about and we walked around looking at those cute little model rooms.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Okay, it's Martin Luther King Day and I have to work. Lots of folks get the day of to reflect on Dr. King and what he stood for and on the shortness of his life and the shortness of life in general. It's a good time to reflect on freedoms we have gained and what they mean and to reflect on freedoms we have lost, as well. But even at work, Dr. King's messages are everywhere.

As writers, we have the power to change society. Remember way back when the only women on Star Trek – except for the delicious Lt. Uhura - were the captain's cuties in short skirts, all atwitter or dirty dancing green-skinned alien wenches bent on seduction? And even Uhura had to wear a short skirt, for crying out loud, and didn't practice hard science, but ran the Enterprise switchboard. A far cry from Captain Janeway's command.

Writers did that. Writers with vision wrote about the changing human condition. People of color, women, Asian people, all the peoples of the world are now portrayed in fictional media situations and we don't even think about it. But I remember 'I Spy' and the controversy of a couple of undercover agents masquerading as a tennis player and his trainer having weekly adventures and one of them was black!

From 1965 to 1968 Bill Cosby's Alexander Scott and Robert Culp's Kelly Robinson brought tight adventure into our homes along with the idea that a man of color could be a romantic lead, a good guy, a smart guy who could speak many languages. Some of the writers were Mort Fine, David Friedkin, Robert. C. Dennis, Earl Barrett, and Arthur Dales. They helped Dr. King change the world.

Writers Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdman can tell you more about the evolution of social mores in the Star Trek universes.

And what about '24' – everyone loves Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer. The show is non-stop excitement and action and is written so convincingly by Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow. But do we get caught up in the improbable scenarios and think, "Yeah, this is what it's really like…" No one does The World is a Dangerous Place as well as Fox. And maybe we'd all like to be writing a top TV show and carry those Emmys home in a bag. But are we going to further stereotypes or break ground? Are we going to write our freedoms away in the name of security or are we going to use that keyboard to make a difference in the way we see national security?

Dr. King was an articulate orator – I like to think of that as a sort of vocal writer. After all, he did write his famous speeches, although his talent in oratory gave him a larger than life presence with which to deliver his message. He had power – the power of the pen and the power of intelligent delivery of an important message.

We have power. As writers, we can change the way the world works. We can stand by or we can use our gifts to change things for the better. We can make a difference.


My niece Bekki across the table from me at lunch yesterday. It was her birthday and we had a girls-only lunch at the Elephant Bar. She snapped a picture of me.

The puppy dogs got groomed and were smelling good when all the stinky was washed off them. They are so pretty!

We had a freeze – I'm sure we lost a few plants, but even in frozen death, the sages were eerie and crystalline.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Yes, the whole idea of writing character-driven fiction is to make your characters unforgettable. Unforgettable to the reader, that is.

But what if they haunt you, coming back to interfere in story after story, needing to be chased away because they don't belong.

Or worse, what if *someone else's* characters keep getting into your writing?

I have a recurring character who slips into my writing when I am trying to stick to a plotline or follow a general outline. She springs in, fully developed from other stories, to let me know my current characters are weak, underdeveloped or so much like her that they might as well *be* her. Sometimes this works out and the character motivates me to write another story in a series. But more frequently I have to write her out and go back to develop the character I had in mind for the piece originally.

She can be a real pain – but also a thermometer to let me know my current work has some lukewarm or cold spots.

Writing someone else's characters – unless you are writing fanfiction – could be a real problem. I haven't had this happen – at least I don't think so – but I have been so enamored of some fictional characters that I have really wished them to be real, and I have wanted them to peek into my stories for a cameo.

I have to think this is a sincere form of admiration – a writer so completely won me over with a character so real and so sympathetic to my odd tastes that I crave their appearance in my own work.

So, has this happened to you? What do you do about it?


The last of the Oreo cookies.

Alton Brown explaining all about barley last night. The man is possessed. I mean that in a good way.

My elderly dog snoring in tune last night – it sounded like she was singing!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

(Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster)


I was cruising Absolute Write when I stumbled on a post from a writer of serious fiction who was concerned about being the monsters he portrayed in his work. Since you must get into your character's head to write from an authentic perspective, does the act of thinking like a murderer or rapist or sociopath damage you? Is it harmful to you to feel what your characters feel?

I thought about this – I write as a man, a woman, a child; as a murderer, a vampire, a sociopath and an alien; about crime, revenge, horror. Has it harmed me to feel the things they feel, to vicariously commit their acts? Have I come to accept their twisted views in order to write about them, and if so, has this diminished me as a person?

No. I am an actor on paper, a prism through which the light may be bent.

I am connected to the Human Condition by these forays into its dark corners and stomach-churning depths. When I get into the thoughts of a monster, I get in there as a human being. After all, all my stories are concerned primarily with the Human Condition, even if they are about turnip-rooted aliens and space-faring vampires, but especially if they are about the need for revenge or the need to satisfy a compulsion.

I find that writing from the perspective of someone who has been the victim of their own twisted drives or mental imbalances gives me sympathy for how we turn out the monsters among us. As human beings, we know there are those among us who can commit atrocity. As writers, we know we can understand them if we try hard enough and if we need to.

After all, who better can understand compulsion than a writer?


Seared ahi salad at Honolulu Harry's – it was such a pleasure to go out for dinner with my Dear Husband who has been recuperating from hip surgery and unable to venture out until now.

Three engineers at work a few cubicles over discussing lobster and the right way to cook it. Yes, split on a grill, slathered with butter and a lime squeezed over it would be my choice, too.

The house, clean as a whistle when I got home from work – Cesare & Alicia, my housekeepers had returned from Guatemala and made everything beautiful again. I love them – I have known them for 16 years now. I missed them over the holidays. They are my friends.

Monday, January 08, 2007


What's the difference? Well, writing this blog is fun, writing comments on other blogs is fun. Writing short stories that come out of nowhere is fun. Even writing a White Paper at work is fun – well, mostly.

Writing on Absolute Write or Evil Editor is fun.

What's not fun? Uh, lemme see… for me, writing on deadline when I don't have a good idea. Writing because someone is holding something over my head and telling me to write. Wait, am I saying it's no fun to write for money?

No. What could be more fun than getting paid for your writing?

I'm saying it's no fun when I don't feel like doing it. It's no fun if I make it into work.

So here's the secret: always make it fun. If you write for money, make sure it's what you want to do. I write for money all the time, but as I write short stories, I write them in my own time and THEN try to market them. The few times I have written on deadline, I found myself chafing and squirming and wanting out, so I pretty much avoid it.

But maybe you like a deadline, enjoy the adrenaline high as it approaches, write better, faster, higher when there's a wolf at your door, gun at your head or editor barking. That's okay – go for it. Enjoy the high!

I try to write every day as a matter of discipline and because otherwise I might lose my physical as well as my mental dexterity. But if I don't enjoy it – find it fun – I stop and do something else.

Life is too short to spend it doing something you don't like.


The look on the neighbor's face when he saw that horrible diseased peach tree I have been complaining about (on his side of the fence) pruned to within an inch of its life by a friend of mine who had a ladder, a saw and a long reach. Okay, maybe this is more of a WMML (What Made Me Laugh) than a 3BT.

The spaghetti my DH made last night after watch Giada de Laurentis cooking on TV.

About a hundred different kinds of cheeses at the supermarket yesterday. I opened my eyes and really looked at all the stuff there. I can't believe how much wonderful food is available in my part of the world.

Friday, January 05, 2007


I know, all I hear from other short story writers is how the markets have all dried up and unless you are Ed Hoch or Stephen King, forget about sales.

It's true that the markets of today are different from the markets of the print magazine heydays. But there are lots of them. Today I discovered Spacesuits & Sixguns, a brand new online 'zine that is a paying market. Add it to the other paying online markets (check Ralan's for a partial listing) and if you write genre, you have enough to keep you busy submitting.

In fact, that's my current problem: I am not prolific enough to write & submit quality stories to all the places in which I'd like to be published. I can do them one-at-a-time and then pick what I think are the best markets, but I don't have a pile of great stuff just sitting around waiting for me to submit.

This is obviously a personal problem – but I'll bet there are plenty of other writers who have everything either now making the rounds, already in print, or in revision. Heck, I don't even have anything in revision at the moment.

I know I need to write more. And I know I need to write better.

So what do you use to help you write mo' bettah? I use online groups like Absolute Write and the letters columns of my favorite ezines. But maybe something you use could help me (and others) to up our output.

Or maybe I'm just slow because it's the beginning of the year and the weather is not beautiful and I have been sick and a multitude of other excuses. Oh, and I'm still waiting to hear back from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Sometimes when I'm waiting to hear back on a favorite piece, I sort of hold my literary breath and don't write anything for a while. But the delicious wait means the piece is still under consideration, and I don't want the wait to end unless it ends in acceptance. Sigh.

Well, I'm gonna go out and check the mail again. Then maybe it will be time to sit down and work on that germ of an idea I got last night in that half-time between sleeping and waking. Or wherever those ideas come from...


One of my bosses at work smiling at his desk, unaware he was being observed, enjoying his work.

The way the clerestory windows of the house showed a night sky full of stars overhead when I looked up. Sometimes all you have to do to see something beautiful is, well, look.

The moon shining on the wet rocks of the desert garden this morning. The black rocks sparkled like polished coal, mimicking a real stream.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My mannequin, Jane, wearing a Billy Travilla gown designed for Marylin Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Sold to a collector in Hong Kong, 2004.



For several years I wrote stories, worked full time, worked on my house and garden, and ran a business online buying and selling vintage designer wear. My business, Studio 85, was quite successful, and I made lots of money and lots of friends while scouring for finds, researching obscure designers and matching up some rather fabulous items with the right owners.

I managed to do this evenings and weekends, while writing in the early mornings. I still did lots of other normal things: cooking, taking care of my pets, reading, watching TV and movies, going out to all kinds of gardens, events, parties, lunches and shopping – you name it.

But now I find a full time job and a bit of writing are about all I can manage these days.

What happened? When it came time to make the hard choices, I let the business go dormant. I chose a regular job with benefits over the excitement of my own business. I chose writing over gardening and have watched my garden become someone else's passion. I made these choices without giving them a lot of thought. I just cut back on things, thinking I had less time to pursue them.

But here's the really weird part: I have just as much time now as I always had.

It's not the time that has slipped away – it's the energy, the inclination, and to a certain sad degree, the physical ability.

So maybe it's time to think about how these kinds of choices can be thoughtless excursions or thoughtfully made decisions.

Don't let your writing become a casualty of your energy or a casualty of your interest. Make your writing choices with your eyes open and a deep breath. Take care of yourself. There's more to this trip than just today, and what you do today can be reflected by what you become tomorrow. Be a writer. Write.


My desk at work after a 2-week absence. With all the familiarity of home, it sat there as I left it last year, the chair waiting for me, the email full and the message light on the phone blinking like crazy.

The strawberry fields on the way to work this morning, little plants already set out, anticipating the warm February and ripe berries by March.
That last package of my favorite instant soup in the cupboard – I can't wait to have it!

Monday, January 01, 2007

This represents LAST YEAR (2006) it's the space where the spa is going - the lovely plants will all be saved and transplanted. Just picture another splotch of turquoise right there in the middle.


Happy New Year .... was this past year the one in which I thought I would write a novel? Get a short story published? Work on that anthology or chapbook or ezine?

Well, so much happened - you know, life happened. I got a job just about the time I had settled into unemployment (or retirement, guess it depends on how you look at it.)

I moved into a new house, a new living arrangement - that was a wonderful but major scary thing for me to do.

I got a leg brace and started walking around again - pretty big steps for me. I experimented with edgy and raw flash fiction.

I had a lawsuit settle (take that, Jarndyce & Jarndyce!) and had a story of which I am particularly fond published in a great new anthology.

And I mentioned that I got a job - but I didn't mention how difficult it is for me to work it, how physically straining it is, and how proud I am that my bosses & co-workers ignore my disability and just simply expect me to do the work. I don't know how long I will be able to continue with it, but as I am having a hot spa built at the house, I figure it will take at least another year of working to pay it off.

And just as the year was drawing to a close, I took off 2 weeks to help my DH who had hip surgery - only to come down with the worst 'flu I have had - It's been 10 days and I am still hacking and coughing and feeling rotten.

But the New Year is upon us - the year in which I will recover from this virus before the month is out, finish the five flash stories for 100 Voices in the Night and hear back from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. And even if I don't keep all my Resolutions (forty pounds, exercise, diet, organization, publication, scheduling, you know: the same ones *you* have!) it will still be all right.

Because Life is what happens - and it's why we are writers!


A brand new unopened box of tissues when you really need one.

DH rolling around on his walker with cups of hot lemon tea for me. He is recovering quite well from his surgery and will soon be hiking and taking up ballet.

All five pets on one bed - mine, of course - asleep in peace. I was relegated to the sofa for a bit.