Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Martha Bends The Laws of Space-Time

I decided to become a young adult writer on August 17th, 2008.

A friend of mine who works at Scholastic shipped me an ARC of Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games. I read it in one sitting less than four hours long. It was like an injection of literary crack between my toes, straight into my veins, into my frickin' eyeballs. I couldn't think, sleep, dream anything but young adult novels from that point forward. Of course, my appetite had been whet several months before with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series but it was The Hunger Games that showed me YA is where it's at.

It has been one year and one month since that date.

One year and one month of:

- completing a manuscript
- signing with an agent
- going on editorial submission
- joining the Brain Trust critique group
- building a website and personal blog
- writing half of manuscript #2
- attending two national writing conferences
- meeting and joining with the Pens Fatales group blog
- forming/joining a YA That's Why critique group
- interning for a literary agent

All on top of daily life vagaries.

Lemme tell ya...I have days. Weeks.

Of ugh.
Of I'll never make it in this town!
Of I'm gonna be that person - who plugs away at an impossible dream until it is neither romantic nor inspirational but strangely pathetic because yes, that point happens - don't patronize me and don't regale me with stories of people who published after 50 years because I took statistics, dammit, and you can't fool me into thinking those data points count.

Maybe I will be that person. But that person is 49 years away, and I think if I could glimpse into the future by folding the fabric of space-time so that point 49 years in the future is bunched right up alongside now, I'd still see a happy me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lisa's Theorems of Time (as helped along by Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison)

by Lisa Hughey

I’m a bit of a geek. I like science. I like solid, physical evidence and proof that things exist. So when I started thinking about our topic, Time, I decided research was necessary. Turns out that time is a pretty complicated subject. Possibilities hover in the metaphysical realm as well as the physical.

Albert Einstein postulated that time is relative. It speeds up or slows down depending on how fast one thing is moving relative to something else. He also theorized that the closer we come to traveling at the speed of light, the more time would appear to slow down for us from the perspective of someone who, in relation to us, was not moving. He called the slowing of time due to motion, time dilation.

In the 1970's some scientists used atomic clocks to test Einstein’s theories. Two clocks. Both starting at exactly the same time. One clock set up on the ground. One clock flown around the world on a jet. When the jet landed back in the same place, it’s clock was behind the clock on the ground.

Einstein was right. Time had actually moved slower.

But I think the Einstein experiment missed an important fact. At the end of the experiment, both clocks ended up back on Earth in the exact same place. Proving Lisa’s first theorem of time: Even if the goal is to end up in the same place, everyone’s path (and the time to follow the path) is different.

Sophie (A Bad Day For Sorry) and Juliet (Secondhand Spirits) both have books out on the shelves right now. Their paths to publication were radically different. Not better or worse, just different. But they still ended up in the same place at the same time.

Lisa’s second theorem of time: Time is never wasted. The journey is as important as the destination because every experience we have leads us to where we are now.

Thomas Edison (to steal from National Treasure) tried and failed over a thousand times before inventing incandescent light. He has many things to say about failure but this one is most profound: "Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

It is never the time to give up.

You’ve probably guessed by now, I’m also a very big fan of the power of positive thinking and the importance of motivation. Einstein and Edison are both examples of people who tried and failed over and over but also succeeded over and over.

Which leads to Lisa’s third (and final) theorem of time: Time passes. Whether you put your effort toward your dreams or you just keep wondering and wishing you could... take a class in anthropology, learn to speak Farsi, travel to New York City, do a hundred pushups (, color your hair purple, or...write a novel. You won’t know unless you try. And whether you’re moving or standing still, you’ve got time.


ps. I didn’t realize I had theorems of time until I started working on this blog post which helped me to define in my own geeky way, the relativity of time.

pps. The info on Einstein comes from a PBS show, Nova.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's Time To Talk About Autism

--Adrienne Miller

We are coming up on an anniversary in my family. I remember every detail of the day. How kind the psychologist was as we came into the little office. How much I just wanted her to get to the point when she presented my husband and I with our copy of the long report. And, even though I thought I had prepared for myself for what was coming, how much it hurt to hear for the first time that my son, Jack, has autism.

Its not an uncommon scene, though I wish with all my heart that it was. The CDC says that 1 out of 150 children have autism. Which means that a whole lot of families have been through similar first years. And just as many are now starting this journey. 

It's almost been a year now and I think I'm ready to start talking about autism.

I remember the horrible tangle of emotions I felt in those first few weeks and months. Lots of anger and despair. And guilt. Don’t forget the guilt. Maybe I did something to cause this. I have no right to be this upset. Jack is healthy and some people aren’t so lucky as that, you know. 

But then I would see Jack and most times just being around him would snap me out of it. Cause he was going on with his life, not caring about the specifics of that report or where he fell on what chart. He went on being the sweet, funny guy he always was. The little boy who loves trains and books and Disneyland.

Jack went into early intervention program through our local school district, one that gave him 25 hours a week of ABA therapy. We were also lucky enough that our insurance covered speech therapy sessions at our highly esteemed local Children’s Hospital. 

He began making amazing progress. When Jack first started school he only had a vocabulary of about 40 words, now he talks in sentences. The same kid who couldn’t draw a straight line with a crayon can now write his own name. We have a gallery dedicated to his art work in the entryway to our house. He even plays with his younger brother. Not alongside him. With him.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a long, long road of us. There’s a lot of skills Jack hasn’t mastered. Maybe he always will have those problems or maybe he won’t. I don’t know. No one does. 

But over this last year I’ve learned a lot about my son. He’s an amazing courageous boy who has handled everything that this tough year has thrown at him.  I can only imagine how difficult every day is for Jack-- every day that he has to struggle to communicate, every day that he is bombarded with too much sensory information, every day that he works so hard in school to learn what comes naturally to the rest of us.  And everyday I see him smile. 

And this is what I’ve really learned over the last year. This is why its time to talk about autism. Because Jack isn’t just a 1 in 150 statistic. He is brave and strong and downright amazing. All our kids are. And that is what the world needs to know about them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time...gee I wish I had some more

I believe in a theory of relativity.

For example, the way time expands and contracts, relative to what you're doing.

I don't just mean how, when one's book is due, say, in one week... that week seems like two days. Or how it also, simultaneously, drags on for a month, so that it's impossible to remember Life Before Manuscript Due .

How about when you take a trip to...anywhere, really... as long as it's someplace new. Time slows down. You return home three days later and folks hardly even noticed you were gone, but you may well have had a life-altering experience. At the same time, the time absolutely flew and you can't believe it's over.

Right now, though, all I can think about is the manuscript that was due two days ago (seems like an eternity) editor gave me a couple of extra days, which is great because I need the time, but not so great because I will take all the time I can get, which means the days will simultaneously stretch ahead of me and rush by, and I won't get to other stuff. Petty things like paying bills (those bill collectors apparently don't understand the whole "time is relative" thing) or fulfilling those obligations to friends and family and colleagues that have been piling up over the past few weeks.

Wish I could see the future, and see how it all turns out. But I guess I'll wait for time to unfold its mysteries, on its own schedule.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nora Roberts Has More Free Time Than I Do

Recently, I saw Nora Roberts speak in a video chat. She's a wonderful speaker, engaging, charming, and witty. She seems to be a straight-shooter, and she tells it like it is. She gets a lot done because she works a lot; it's as simple as that. She works five to six days a week, six to eight hours a day.

I heard her say that, and I thought, huh. I can do that.

Hey, wait a minute. I do that.

This week, I'm working 60 hours at the 911 day job. Monday is an overtime shift, then I'll do Wednesday-Saturday, all 12 hour shifts, like normal, 6am to 6pm. I get up between 3:30am and 4am to write for about an hour, before I leave the house at 5am for my commute. I get around a thousand words done before work, unless I accidentally make the coffee too weak.

On my days off, I write for four to seven hours, depending on how the words are treating me, unless I'm editing under deadline, and then I can be at my desk for ten hours or more. As my last deadline approached, it wasn't uncommon for me to be at my desk for twelve hours on every day off. (For those doing the math, that's an 84 hour work week between both jobs.)

La Nora, whom I adore, is working her ass off, yes, but she's putting in a writing work week of between thirty to forty-eight hours.

I can DO that. Let me AT it! I feel like a leaping animal, wild to try. Let me get to the point where I can support myself by the writing, let me get to the point where the royalty statements allow me quit the day job. (A girl can dream, can't she?) Let me know what it feels like to be completely self-employed, and to feel (mostly) safe being so.

I'm passionate enough to do the work to make it happen. I'm putting in the time now, and I'll put it in then, too. But on the flip side, I'm savvy enough to know that putting in the time doesn't mean that you're guaranteed to make it. Nor does being talented. Nor, even, does being in the right place at the right time. There's no magic formula, except, perhaps, continuing to get up after you get knocked down, again, and again, and even that might not work.

But I'll keep writing. Keep putting in the time. Nora inspires me. "Discipline, guilt, and guilt." That's how I get to the page every day. Yep. I get that.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blink And You'll Miss It: Sophie's Feeling Sappy

by Sophie Littlefield


I let this week's theme roll around in my head for a while, and when I finally went to pluck it out and work on it - much like Dumbledore lifting memories from the penseive - I found that it brought tears to my eyes.

Time is never so precious as when your firstborn is about to turn seventeen. You stand there at his side, looking at adulthood on a shore that is not very distant after all, and you wonder what the hell happened. You remember with perfect muscle-memory, not one bit diminished by middle age, what it felt like to hold him at six weeks in his terry-cloth carry him over your shoulder from a play-date he didn't want to leave when he was five years old. You remember how he confessed to stealing candy at the age of seven and to a first kiss much later. All of it is condensed into an impossibly brief span in your mind and the prayer on your lips is gratitude for all the time he's spent with you in the past and for the man he is fast becoming.

When my boy was six and his sister was four, I paid a sitter forty dollars every other Friday to come and watch my kids for the afternoon. As I drove away from my house I was practically giddy with excitement at the chance to be on my own for a few hours. Sometimes I got my nails done. Once or twice I went to a movie. More often than not I went to Home Depot or Kohl's or even Costco, but being alone in my own head felt so delicious I might as well have been in Paris. Every time, though, when I returned home I was more than ready to see my kids again.

Two years and three months ago, after finally realizing the kids didn't need me nearly as much as they used to, I got serious about writing. It was practically an overnight decision. I imagine I felt a little like Mr. Hummer (or whatever the fellow's called who used to make those dreadful automobiles) must have felt like, looking out over the auto factory one day, realizing demand had shrunk dramatically. I don't know if he said to himself "Hmmm, I seem to have a lot more time on my hands all of a sudden; best get cracking on a novel."

I fear that he might not have. Perhaps he is playing golf. His loss.

I love writing. I don't love it more than taking care of my children, but that was a different time and I had a different role. When you are needed by a child, your needs are sublimated, your satisfaction is a product of their happiness. It's not a bad thing - it's a glorious thing, a privilege.

On the more-rare occasions that my children need me now, I go gladly and it's all the sweeter because I know how fleeting those moments are.

Sometimes my daughter likes me to blow-dry her hair. Or listen to her latest Garage Band masterpiece. Or even just talk about her day.

And my son needs me to take him to get lacrosse stick tape. Or show him where we keep the trash bags (though they're in the same place they were the last time he asked. Or even just talk about his day.

I might be at a critical place in my story. I may have just figured out a scene after several grueling hours of staring at a blank screen. I might have a deadline tomorrow or a blog post due. But it doesn't matter: when they call me I go.

Because they won't always be there to ask. Someday they'll be gone, living elsewhere with distractions and obligations of their own, and my house will be quiet and empty...really conducive to getting lots done. I'll be more prolific, I won't lose my train of thought or forget where I was in my story and what my characters were doing.

I'm sure it will be good for my career. The books will benefit.

And I'll miss these times.

I don't regret a single moment I've spent with my kids. I was lucky to be able to spend so much of their childhood with them. My days are exciting now, filled with galleys to correct and manuscripts to finish and books to sign, but the days of sippy cups and silly songs and sailing through the house in a laundry basket ship were among the sweetest moments of my life.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Speaking of sweet moments: the Pens gathered over the weekend for a pot luck. There's nothing better than getting together with my dear writing friends to talk and laugh and drink wine and plan our next ventures!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fan Girl Love and Writing

The Pens Fatales are please to welcome Tawny Weber for our friday guest blogger. :) Tawny is usually found dreaming up stories in her California home, surrounded by dogs, cats and kids. When she’s not writing hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze, she’s shopping for the perfect pair of boots or drooling over Johnny Depp pictures (when her husband isn’t looking, of course). In September ’09 Tawny launched Dressed to Thrill, a fun, four-author costume shop continuity with her release of FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME. And in January 2010, her novella, YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS, is out in the Blazing Bedtime Story anthology. Come by and visit her on the web at

I’m an avowed and quite possibly obsessed Johnny Depp fangirl. I’ve had a deep and abiding lust for the man since his slick-haired 21 Jump Street days. I’m sure I’d have been a fan of his earlier work – Nightmare on Elm Street, but I covered my face about the time he was gobbled up by that bed.

But I’m not just in deep lust with the guy’s look – bad-boy-fashion-grunge – and his amazingly gorgeous eyes, his knife-edge cheekbones and that smile... OMG that smile!!!! Um, where was I? Oh yeah, it’s not all about the looks (although I could go on for awhile if I didn’t have a word count to stick to. Somehow, that’s always a challenge for me. Sticking with word count, I mean. Not babbling on and on and... Well, see what I mean?). A huge part of my fangirl adoration of Johnny Depp is his sense of humor, his ability to laugh and enjoy life. From all accounts, he’s an amazing father, the kind of guy who wears a beaded bracelet on the red carpet because his little girl made it for him. But he’s got enough of that wild bad boy thing still going on to keep him from being too sweet.

I also admire how he’s true to his beliefs. He takes roles that mean something to him – often roles that would be ignored by other stars because they don’t have enough ‘upward mobility’ in them –then he brings his own magic to them, and shoots right on up anyway. Looking gorgeous and sexy all the way.

So it’s not a surprise, given my well-documented fangirl adoration of all things Johnny (it’s even mentioned in my Harlequin bio) that I’ve been asked quite often how I’ve based one of my heroes on Johnny.

The answer? Never. I can’t base characters on real people. I know so many people who write bits and pieces of people in their lives into their characters. Or they use movie stars or roles as inspirations. Or even cut out models or photos of actors to use in character sketches.

I’d love to do that. I wish I could turn all those people who irritated me in real life into characters who ‘got theirs’ in my stories. That certain snotty in-law who always turns up her nose and insults my kids? She’d make a great villain. That obnoxious realtor who dropped the ball and made my July a living hell? Oh yeah, he’d be such a great character to get revenge on. The list goes on and on. So as much as I admire Johnny Depp, why can’t I write him into a hero in one of my books?

He just doesn’t mind that way. Real people never do.

Real people have their own motivations. Their own worlds and quite often, their own foibles and relationships. I can’t make them do what I want without taking all that into account – not even in my own imagination. If I tried to write Johnny into a hero, in the back of my head I’d always be thinking he’s cheating on my heroine (and me LOL) with Vanessa in real life. I think I’m too literal, but I just can’t find a way to combine my fangirl love of Johnny Depp and my writing.

The only exception to my not using real people? I do put some characteristic of my husband’s into every hero. It could be one of his cars, his hobbies, a song he loves. Some little thing so I don’t feel quite so much like I’m cheating when I write those hot love scenes with another man LOL.

How about you? Do you like picturing real life people when you read, putting them in the role of whatever hero you’re imagining? And if you could star in a romance with any hottie hunk, which one would it be?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Taking Things Into My Own Hands

By Gigi

I have a long history of throwing myself into things I love. Today I'll share a story that epitomizes this devotion: the making of the movie The Rescue of Mac and Sam.

It's common knowledge that the greatest television show of all time is MacGyver. A show about an ingenious special agent who uses a Swiss Army knife, duct tape, and science to beat the bad guys? You gotta love it.

I was in highschool when the show concluded in the early 1990s. I didn't want to live without it, so my best friend and I (both theater geeks) wrote a script to pick up where the show ended. After writing the script, we filmed it.

The two of us starred in the movie (do you recognize me here without my glasses?). One of our friends played our screen nemesis (she was also location scout). Others worked the camera (a now-obsolete pre-digital Sony handycam). My dad made a cameo appearance. I directed.

In case you don't remember how the series ended, MacGyver rides off into the sunset on his motorcycle with the son he never knew he had. Our movie takes place right afterward, with Mac and his son Sam kidnapped. The Phoenix Foundation's top agents (my best friend and I) are sent in to find them, using a series of MacGyverisms.

Thus we were able to make a 30 minute movie without Richard Dean Anderson appearing on screen -- except for the brilliant last scene of the movie with some expert editing by a 16-year-old me.

This was long before the days of YouTube. However, a couple years after we made the movie, I had the opportunity to attend an event at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles that was honoring the MacGyver TV series. The whole cast was there. I brought a VHS copy of our movie.

Richard Dean Anderson has got to be the sweetest man on earth. He graciously listened to me ramble on about the movie we made to pay homage to MacGyver. He even took the tape.

Here's a photo of me looking dumbstruck in the presence of the man who played one of the greatest characters of all time.

I'm still waiting for the right opportunity to pass along my sequel to The Goonies. But that's another story...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Martha Supersucks At This Fan Thing

Exhibit A: In 2001, when I decided to become "a serious writer" I joined the local Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapter and unknowingly walked into their "author appreciation event" and sat down at a table of Big Names. Only I didn't know they were big names. I didn't know their names at all.

Poo on me, right? Well they did. Not literally. But they ignored the crap out of me. They let my one-liners drop on dead air with a look of disdain before continuing their conversation. In short, they were douchebags. And I let it get to me. And a few months later I quit. Which makes me a douchebag, too.

Exhibit B: In 2003 I went to New York for the summer with the husband. We passed the most adorable little puppy so I started freaking out. The husband started freaking out. I said, "Wasn't that the cutest puppy ever?" And the husband said, "What are you talking about? That was Isaac Mizrahi holding some dog." Oops.

Exhibit C: In 2008, I returned to writing and to RWA and found that Fate and Karma had weeded out the douchebags (thank you, ladies).

I stuck around, met the Pens, and together with a few other lovely ladies we rocked a suite at Nationals. I was chilling in our suite in a night shirt when a voice drifted in: "May I see your room?" "Oh sure," said my roommates. I jumped up, walked over pantless and promptly met Kristin Higgins. I Heart Kristin Higgins. I workship at the altar of Kristin Higgins. I only worship at about five altars, for the record.
I shook my hero's hand without my pants on. I waited until she left. And I promptly had a shit fit. What did these lovely ladies of this blog do? THEY INVITED HER OVER FOR A DRINK THE NEXT NIGHT. Kristin is lovely. Hilarious. Gracious. Which is probably why they proceeded to tell her of my pantless hero worship, which she found (god I hope) amusing.

I guess I found it amusing, too. Until the next night when I was in the bar networking. Meeting agents. Meeting authors. Putting on my game face. Rachael put in a teasing note about how I'd managed to wear pants. And Big Name Agent looked at me and said, "Oh, are you that girl Kristin was talking about? Oh, she loved that story. She was quite flattered."

Yes. Me, too. I'm THAT GIRL. Without the pants.

I am no good at being a fan. Not of people I should be in awe of nor people I actually am in awe of. Just lock me in a small room and make sure I don't meet anyone. Ever.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Explorer Fan Girl

by Lisa Hughey

My inner Fan Girl is expressed through traveling to new places. I love exploring cities, wandering the streets, absorbing the energy and immersing in the culture.

Kinsale, Ireland

I love thinking about where I’m going to go next (when the budget permits) and dreaming about the places I’ll see and the experiences I’ll have. And just so I don’t miss anything, I’ve pretty much reduced my obsession to a science.

I love to research every little detail. Yelp, TripAdvisor, AAA, Lonely Planet are all my friends. I spend hours reading and culling information so that I know exactly what is a must see, what is a if you have time and what will be saved for another visit. But I don’t strictly plan out a schedule and there are always surprises along the way.

I’ll admit to a weakness for luxury accommodations when monetarily possible. The modern swanky Sofitel in DC, or the grande old dame of the Waldorf in New York, or the quirky renovated Kennedy School House in Portland. Each unique, yet so totally perfect for the city they reside in.

I’m a sucker for history of just about any kind.

The sense of awe that accompanies standing in the Courthouse where the Declaration of Independence was signed, knowing that Ben Franklin, John Adams and George Washington stood in the very same place;

standing on the parapets of a fort in Ireland, where hundreds of years earlier, the Irish stood ready to defend their homes from the invading English;

standing in front of Monet’s Impression at Sunrise, knowing that the Impressionist period was named because of this painting.

Each place has its own feel, its own highlights and its own traditions. For me some of the musts were: tea at the Brown Derby in Denver and tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada. A musical (Spamalot) on Broadway. Times Square. The Liberty Bell. Alcatraz.

Powell’s Bookstore. The Eiffel Tower. The Mall in DC. The Book of Kells at Trinity College. The Japanese Tea Garden.

I have itchy feet, always wanting to wander, and you know I realized it’s time to plan another trip.


p.s. I’m also crazy about food and restaurants, researching five star, hot new places and local dives. Each city has their specialty dishes specific to the locale, but that is a topic for another day....

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fandom in the Midlands

L.G.C. Smith

Fan girls evolve. What we love changes through different stages of our lives. Last week, the Leezlet, age 3 ½, and I, age mumbledyflump, each got to indulge our deepest passions. The Leezlet got to meet Thomas the Tank Engine in person at Drayton Manor Theme Park near Tamworth, Staffordshire. I visited the early Anglo-Saxon stone carvings at the priory church of St. Mary and St. Hardulph at Breedon-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire and I attended one day of the St. Wilfrid conference at York Minster.

Thomas the Tank Engine

We were happy, happy Fan Girls.

There’s not really much to tell. The expression on the Leezlet’s face as she anticipates her first ride in Clarabelle, one of Thomas’s coaches, captures what both of us felt to a tee.

The left photo is of the interior at St. Mary and St. Hardulph, and the right one is of one of the sculptures. The church guide says it is probably a woman because the head is covered. I love her. :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Oops! The Pens forgot to announce the winner of guest blogger Jennifer Haymore's book, A HINT OF WICKED.

The lucky winner is Robyn Lee. Thank you to Robyn and everyone who takes the time to visit PensFatales!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fan Shui

I'm pleased to welcome our guest for today: Camille Minichino, aka Margaret Grace, prolific author, career scientist, and unrepentant New York lover. When I was taking my first unsteady steps as a fledgling author, Camille welcomed me with open arms, a big smile, and a confident "of course you can do it". She has helped more authors along their professional --and, I'm sure, personal-- paths than she knows. Oh, and she's also an engaging, witty, fabulous author!

Camille Minichino, aka Margaret Grace:

It's such a treat to visit Pensfatales, which I've had bookmarked since its opening day.

Here's what I think of as the ultimate fangirl photo:Supposedly, the breeze was made by a passing subway train. What are the odds? I've always thought that a fan put a fan under that grate just to fan prurient flames.

I'm a big fangirl myself, with an object of my devotion in each of many categories: books, movies, television, science, hobbies, politics. I won't get specific here lest we go off topic and argue about my choices. (It happens at breakfast every morning.)

Surely my most obsessive fan days were when I almost followed the Boston Braves to Milwaukee. Lou Perini (the bad guy) moved his baseball franchise when I was junior in high school. All my meaningful life to that point had been given over to the Braves, the perfect friends for a shy girl. I never missed a game on the radio and my room, in typical teen style, was plastered with photos of the players. "Like a boy's room," my mother called it.

Fandom is usually accompanied by superstitions and promises—I gave the Braves a lot power over my life: If the Braves beat the Brooklyn Dodgers tonight, I'll never swear again; if Earl Torgeson hits it out of the park, someone will ask me to the dance; if Eddie Mathews is safe at second, then I'll be safe at home and in this world. I had no plan for If the Braves leave Boston ...

One time I signed a card to a boy I had a secret crush on, Merry Christmas from Lou Perini and the Boston Braves, as if my own name had too little weight to hold ink. Other girls were pretty and confident. They had the right to say "hi" without apology. I could only say, "Did you see that third inning catch last night?" or "I'll take Spahn and Sain over Mel Parnell any day."

I was devastated when the Braves abandoned me. I applied to the University of Wisconsin so I could be with them! (Is that a fangirl, or what?) Once I realized the Boston subway didn't go that far, however, I had to reconsider.

It took a while for me to absorb the fact that baseball was a business, not a sport played for the pleasure of its fans. It was a rude but necessary awakening, one I would need for every undertaking (and they are legion) in my life.

Ouch. It's a tough lesson, but all fans have to learn it.

One exciting thing my fandom got me was my very first published piece: a letter printed in the Boston Globe. In it I begged Tom Yawkey (the other bad guy), owner of the Boston Red Sox, to share Fenway Park so the Braves could make it financially. I pleaded with the fans of Boston not to be taken in by the Sox leftfielder who treated his followers with crowd-pleasing, obscene gestures every game. It didn't work, but maybe seeing my name in print in a major newspaper was what started me down this blog path!

Fandom can go very wrong and I should be grateful that I got out of it when I did, whether I liked it or not. Remember Robert De Niro, the out-of-work knife salesman in "The Fan"? I keep this still from the movie nearby:

-- along with a line De Niro spoke: "Excited and anxious I await my dream / To escape, applaud, and embrace my team."

Creepy, huh?

Camille Minichino, aka Margaret Grace, has eleven published mysteries. The latest, "Mourning in Miniature," will be out October 6 from Berkley Prime Crime. Available now for pre-order! Visit her at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Believe in Miracles

--Adrienne Miller

I held my boyfriend’s hand as he stepped up to my parent’s porch. Though I could tell he was doing his best to hide it from me, he was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? Meeting the parents is a stressful thing.

The door swung open and there was my dad--a formidable man--blocking the entrance.

“So, you’re Tom, eh?”


“Do you like hockey?” my dad asked. We both got the sense that our entrance depended on his answer.

“I love it.”

Now I was nervous. I knew Tom had never seen a hockey game in his life. The only little bits he knew of the game came from what I had told him on the car ride over--the basics of offsides and icing and interference. That was it.

Tom was going to have to bring his A bullshitting-game to survive the next three hours with my family.

Turns out, my future husband--himself no scrawny weakling--was up to the challenge. One game, that was all it took and he was hooked.

Now, I’m not sure this is really how it went down, it was over a decade ago. My parents might have a different account of the story, but I swear this is how both Tom and I remember it. And it gives you a pretty good idea how crazy my family is over hockey.

I love hockey. I love the speed, the athleticism, the intensity and the tension. I love the feeling of being a fan--I’m a San Jose Sharks girl, in case you haven’t noticed--the sense of belonging, the hope, the pride, the rivalries.

To me a big part of hockey is family. We have a family high-five-handshake-thingy that we do every time someone scores. My dad and I call each other after every goal. I even talked to my parents about what they thought I should write about in this post.

My mom joked that I should write about how hockey is a metaphor for life. Which is funny, since we all know that its the other way around, right?

But it's a good a theme as any, so here goes: What hockey has taught me.

If you want something you’ve just got to get in there and put on your warrior face. There are going to be times where you have to face off against someone with better stats. Every now again you’ll have to battle it out along the boards, and you’re not going to win if you’re worried about getting hurt.

Celebrate every goal. You worked hard. Have your moment. Then get back in the game. Some days you’ll win and somedays you’ll lose, but every goal along the way is awesome.

Sometimes you can do the impossible. You can make that jaw-dropping save, snatch victory out of thin air, make something out of nothing. Really. I’ve seen it.
Of course, when all else fails you can do what Tom did and just fake it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Juliet's showing her age...what's a fangirl, exactly?

The first time I heard the topic for this fortnight, "Fangirl", my mind went immediately to fan dancers.
I do like the idea of fan dancers -- a great deal, actually-- but having never been one I wasn't sure what I should write about the topic.

I did have a brief fantasy of using this topic as an excuse to go out one night and give fan dancing a whirl, but I'm going to have to put that on my list of Things To Do One Day on Lower Broadway, right after pole dancing (Sophie Littlefield and I saw some great pole dancing in L.A., and felt inspired...)

But I quickly realized I must be wrong. As my 17-year-old son likes to remind me with many scathing I-can't-believe-I'm-related to you eye rolls, I'm not exactly up-to-date on modern lingo.

So I looked it up. According to the fabulous Urban Dictionary, a fangirl is:

1. A rabid breed of human female who is obesessed with either a fictional character or an actor.

2. A female who has overstepped the line between healthy fandom and indecent obsession.

Hmm, rabid AND indecent obsession. Sounds right up my alley. But I'm having a hard time thinking of someone --or some character-- for whom I've felt that kind of love and devotion...other than, of course, my childhood wonderdog, a cockapoo named Princess:

(We did share a rather indecent closeness, bordering on rabid obsession. On my part, not hers. She was a very patient, mature canine, while I was very young and in love.)

Then there's always David Cassidy. I know my age is showing like a frilly undergarment below a 1970s miniskirt, but y'all don't know quite what the Partridge family meant to me, back in the day. And David Cassidy's total awesomeness...well you kind of had to be there. It's a little hard to explain to those coming to maturity in the world-weary 2000's. I know we have great characters surrounding us today, but please -- do any of them ride around with their singing family on an old schoolbus with a Mondrian-inspired paintjob? I ask you, is that not worthy of fangirldom?
Plus, that feathered hair was sigh-inspiring....

Ah well. As for current fangirl squeeing...hmmm. I did enjoy Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I Javier Bardem raises my temperature whenever he walks on the set. I got tongue-tied when I met Maya Angelou, and was pretty fluttery when Octavio Paz made a pass at me at a cocktail party (he was pushing eighty at the time, but still).

But when it comes right down to it, I still think fan dancing sounds like a whole lot more fun, not to mention squee-inducing.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rachael Is a Fan Girl

There's an ad campaign where a famous person is lounging in some hotel (I want to say it's W, but I can't swear to it, so I guess it must not have worked that well) and the copy just says, for example, "Judy Dench is a fan." I could be that kind of fan. I'd like to try.

But none of us are ordinary fans. Sure, we get everyday crushes. I'm a fan of Alexander Skarsgard. Of course. Yum.

But I'm also a fan of African violets.

I'm a fan of Shetland wool.

I'm a fan of Venetian lace and the smell of diesel on a wet Venetian morning.

I'm a fan of broken pens from the fifties.

I'm a fan of cleaning the grease from around the edges of stove tops.

I'm a fan of forgetting to dust baseboards for years on end.

I'm a fan of medals with no purpose.

I'm a fan of yoga and accidental Buddhism.

I'm a fan of mothers and sisters and wives. Brothers, sons, and fathers ain't too shabby, neither.

I'm a fan of novels with dangerous curves.

I'm a fan of memoirs that make me homesick for someone I never was.

I'm a fan of yellow.

I'm a fan of kissing, even though I sometimes forget to practice enough.

I'm a fan of fans (electric, in particular).

I'm a fan of ukuleles.

I'm a fan of sweetened condensed milk, eaten with a spoon.

I'm a fan of tomorrow.

And I'm liking today, too.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bad Reviews, I Scoff At Thee

by Sophie

I'm not much for celebrity. I'm not a very good "fan girl". I don't care who a person is in a media/fame context - at least, not nearly as much as I care who they are on the inside...

Anyway, I think today I'm going to use one of the "Get out of jail free" cards that were issued to us Pens upon incorporation, a limited number of instances when we are allowed to ignore the topic of the week and instead address the subject burning most brightly in our minds.

Today I am thinking about reviews...specifically, bad ones.

It has been an interesting exercise, to say the least, waiting around for my first bad review. I knew it was coming - all the Experienced Authors told me so - but it took its sweet time. But the other day, I checked around and there it was in all its snarky glory, a reader who did her job and read the book and was most unimpressed, which if you believe in the author-reader contract at all, you must recognize is her right and privilege.

I read the thing, took a deep breath, and waited for it to destroy me. While I was waiting, I found another negative review, someone who thought even less of my book than the first reviewer did.

I knew what to expect next, because I had many years of rejections on which to practice, many agents and editors who expressed their skepticism of my potential with form letters and the occasional laundry list of ways my writing was inadequate. Oft was the time I dissolved into a puddle with the pain of it all and rued the day I took up a pen.

I kept waiting for these reviews to sink in so I could get going on the misery process, so I could have a good wallow in the hurt and get it the hell over with. Only, it just wasn't happening. I read the reviews again, focusing hard on the parts where they were possibly just a little bit meaner than strictly necessary, working it like a loose scab and waiting for the blood.

Finally I got bored and distracted and spent the afternoon doing something else. Much later when I remembered that I was supposed to be having a wretched day, I had a realization: I have done all the handing over of my self-esteem to complete strangers that I am going to do.

And that was a revelation worth celebrating. The ability to let the negative stuff slide - well, that's like high-grade heroin in the publishing business. It just feels so damn good. I don't know how many authors have been stymied in their literary ascent by negative criticism, but I think it's probably lots and lots. I'm thrilled to know I won't be joining their ranks.

I think I got my confidence the hard way - by burning through my considerable self-doubt bit by painful bit over a long and hard journey. Still, if I could bottle it, I would, and I'd have a giant party and give out sweet little beribboned bottles of confidence as party favors to all the other writers.

. . . . . .

Okay, I am feeling a little guilty about skating on the whole fan girl thing. So here - and it pains me greatly to divulge this list - are a few folks who could probably get me all hot and bothered by their mere presence:

Daniel Woodrell
Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Pablo Casals (yeah, he's dead, I get it - you ever hear of time travel? LGC, Gigi, somebody write this story!! And make me the heroine!)
Alan Rickman
Elizabeth George
Nathan Fillian, but ONLY if he renounces that mortifying stint on Desperate Housewives

Nathan Fillian: hot, but only as Mal

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Did Dickens Delete Scenes? I Think Not!

Today the Pens welcome debut author Tracy Kiely, whose MURDER AT LONGBOURN was released this week. Fun disclosure - Sophie and Tracy share an agent and an editor! Romantic Times BookREVIEWS raves about LONGBOURN, saying "Jane Austen fans will thoroughly enjoy this cerebral mystery.”

My book, Murder at Longbourn, is something of a mishmash of my favorite forms of entertainment. I grew up reading Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and watching Alfred Hitchcock movies (I am something of an Anglophile, much to the consternation of my Irish Catholic family). I love the twisty, deviously clever plots of Christie, the sublime wit of Austen, and the “average man caught in extraordinary circumstances” themes of Hitchcock.

When I began to think of writing my own mystery, I realized it would have to have those elements. I began to wonder how the characters in Pride and Prejudice might fit into a mystery. What if, after years of living with unbearably rude and condescending behavior, old Mrs. Jenkinson up and strangled Lady Catherine? What if Charlotte snapped one day and poisoned Mr. Collins’ toast and jam?

Then one day I was watching the news and - I kid you not - there was a story about a woman who killed her husband at a B&B after they attended a Host-A-Murder Dinner. I was off to the races! The final result is a humorous cozy that weaves in many elements of Pride and Prejudice.

Which is why the big harem scene where the main character is daringly rescued by the devastatingly handsome stranger (who later reveals himself to be a vampire), really didn’t fit the overall story line. Although, it was beautifully, nay brilliantly written.

Okay, I’m lying.

When I was first asked to write this blog on deleted scenes, I thought what a great idea! As one of those (geeky) movie buffs who loves watching the deleted scenes on the bonus dvds and scans to find out even more “behind the scene trivia,” I really liked the idea of doing the same for books. As a reader, you get the treat of “seeing” more of your favorite characters as well as getting a sense of the author’s creative process.

Unfortunately, I’m not only one of those people who talks you ear off at cocktail parties, at the airport, in line at the grocery store, I tend to do it on the written page as well. Once I had my main story down, I was forever going back and adding to it rather than deleting. I am the living antithesis of George Bernard Shaw’s quote of “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” I had loads of time and just kept adding additional layers. Like an onion. Shrek knows of what I speak.

In my defense, though, as I wrote about my characters, they became more and more real to me. I’d picture them in various situations, wonder how they’d react and find myself adding in those scenes. Cozies are just as much about the people as the action, so I think it makes for a more satisfying read to feel that you know the characters.

But now that I think about it, I’m staring to warm to this vampire idea…

Tracy Kiely graduated from Trinity College in 1990 with a degree in English. This accomplishment, however, merely seemed to prompt most job interviewers to ask "how fast can you type?" Her standard answer of "not so fast" usually put an end to further questions.

She was eventually hired by the American Urological Association (AUA), who were kind enough to overlook the whole typing thing, mainly because they knew just what kind of stuff she'd be typing. Beggars can't be choosers, you know. After several years, Tracy left the AUA taking with her a trove of anecdotal stories that would eventually result in her banishment from polite society.

Murder at Longbourn (St. Martin’s) is her first novel.