Friday, February 26, 2010

Good Hair Is the Best Revenge

When I heard that the theme this week at Pens Fatales was “revenge,” I immediately ducked my head, hunched my shoulders, and let out a low roll of evil laughter. Finally, a topic I could sink my teeth into! One of the things I love about writing – and in particular, about writing mysteries – is that I can let my characters do all the crazy things that I would never dare to do in real life. Oh no. In real life, I’m all tight smiles when someone does me wrong.

But in fiction, oh boy. No holds barred!

There’s a fabulous scene in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes that captures perfectly what I mean. Some young bimbo steals Kathy Bates’s parking spot. In real life, we’d continue circling the parking lot, muttering under our breath. But in the movie, Kathy did what we all want to do – she deliberately crashed her car into that bimbo’s car. And then she did it again. What a moment!

Writers get to live that joy every day, by having our characters behave in ways that make us gasp and giggle and cheer. So I started thinking, who in my real life deserves revenge? Not my husband. He’s a doll. (An anatomically correct doll, too, thank goodness!) Not my editor. She’s fabulous. She helped me shape If Books Could Kill into a book that I’m proud to present to the world. It’s been pure pleasure working with her.

No, if I were to seek revenge against anyone in my life, it would have to be my hairdresser. Actually, every hairdresser who ever promised me she could turn my mop into something presentable but instead forced me to face the public looking like… well, like this, for example.

Okay, so revenge against Bitsy, a composite of every hairdresser who has failed me. And believe me, there have been major fails!

So who is Bitsy? She’s in her early 20s, and she chews gum so much that her jaw muscles rival Clint Eastwood’s. She asks me questions and then talks loudly to her colleague at the next mirror while I answer. Her fingernails are approaching Guinness Book of World Records length, and when she runs them through my hair, strands get caught and yank painfully at my scalp. Worst of all, when she’s done, she tells me I look fabulous and convinces me that it’s true. When I step outside the salon, people point and laugh. A four-year-old shrieks and hides behind her mother.

Do you recognize Bitsy?

Do you want to help me kill her?

How does Bitsy die? What does her in? Not a gun. That’s too mundane. Revenge is personal, especially in good fiction. Maybe her own shears buried between her shoulder blades? But no. She wouldn’t have seen what was coming, and Bitsy needs to admit her sins before her big death scene. Help me out here. Let’s brainstorm together. How should Bitsy die? What should her last words be? And while we’re at it, share your own hair horror stories!

Bestselling author Kate Carlisle spent over twenty years working in television production as an Associate Director for game and variety shows, including The Midnight Special, Solid Gold and The Gong Show. She traveled the world as a Dating Game chaperone and performed strange acts of silliness on The Gong Show. She also studied acting and singing, toiled in vineyards, collected books, joined a commune, sold fried chicken, modeled spring fashions and worked for a cruise ship line, but it was the year she spent in law school that finally drove her to begin writing fiction. It seemed the safest way to kill off her professors. Those professors are breathing easier now that Kate spends most of her time writing near the beach in Southern California where she lives with her perfect husband.

Visit Kate online at or

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Revenge I Learned From Ricardo Montalban

--Adrienne Miller
I’m not a vengeful person by nature. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a saint. I can hold one hell of a grudge (yeah, I’m looking at you, blonde girl who tripped me in 8th grade art class). But that’s sort of the problem, all I ever do is hold on to my righteous indignation and seethe. And seethe. And seethe. I never get around to the whole “taking revenge” part of the anger cycle. While this has no doubt saved me some jail time, it hasn’t been very satisfying. I’m also worried that I might be working myself up to one hell of an aneurysm.
I figure what I need is beginner course, so I’m going straight to the source. The one film that I’m certain we can all agree is the master work on the subject of revenge - Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan. And I’ve decided to bring you all along for the ride. Lucky you.
So, **starting up dvd**  let’s see what the recipe for real revenge is. 
*Marooning a group of genetically engineered super warriors on a desert planet is bound to piss them off, but that’s nothing compared to what’s going to go down when they find out that the guy that put them there has been promoted.
*People will be even more intimidated if show off your awesome pecs. 
*Mutant earwigs are wicked effective as phase one of your revenge.
*A good revenge plan isn’t really in full swing until you give a clenched fist monologue explaining your resolve in seeing it through.
*Some part of your battle plan needs to include killing off as many obscure relatives of secondary characters as possible. This packs surprising emotional punch.
*“Revenge is a dish best served cold. *creepy breath*  It is very cold in space.” Go ahead, say it. It’s amazingly cathartic. 
*When in doubt, overact the hell out of it. 
*For a threat to be truly effective, you need to say it twice. Once in a normal-ish voice, then in a whisper/growl.
*Just cause you’re a Starfleet admiral doesn’t mean you can’t rock that popped collar.
*Apparently you have a son you’ve never met, because with all the scientific and technical advances of the 23rd century the one thing they can’t figure out is effective contraception. (And he’s kind of a wussie that likes to wear sweater-capes. Sorry about that.)

*Whatever you do don’t battle face to face, or even in the same room, for heavens sake. Just keep repeating threats and dramatic monologues over intercoms and space age wrist watches. 
*Go on. Cheat. Then just tell everyone that you “Don’t believe in a no-win scenario”. 
*Somebody needs to go flying over the rail. I don’t care who it is, make them do it.
*Get a flashing COMMIT sign installed somewhere in your revenge lair. It’s going to look so cool when you’re rolling around quoting Herman Melville and dying. 

*Don’t feel too bad when your best friend sacrifices his own life to save yours. You can always bring him back in the next installment.
Now that you know how to do it right, go forth and avenge! I know I will. That’s right, Blondie. You better hide. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is There a Time to Kill? by Juliet

I would have no trouble shooting a child-molester, point blank, if he harmed my child.

I know this about myself. At least I think I do – I thank whatever gods that be that I’ve never been tested. But I’m pretty certain, deep down in my primal, mama-tigress bones, that it’s true.

I would think about it…. Plan for it…. Lay in wait…. See it through. My actions would pretty much qualify me for Murder One, any way you look at it.

I might even be moved to torture the fiend, just a little, before dispatching him to the Great Beyond. And in that knowledge, that acceptance that there are some things we just can’t bear without lashing out in violence, I find a certain understanding of the motivation behind the seemingly undoable: Murder of a fellow human being.

I think crime writers are attracted to the field because it’s about people being driven to that unspeakable moment: The moment in time when taking someone out makes sense. The instant our wrath defies our judgment, our primal nature surges from within the civilized veneer.

Personally, I’m not interested in stories about serial killers and assassins, because to me those types have made their peace with causing death long before the story begins. No, I’m fascinated by the person who wouldn’t normally kill, but who makes an exception in the case at hand –because of blind fury, or terror …or revenge.

Recently a man named Aaron Vargas went to the home of a man named Darrell McNeill, an upstanding fellow in the community who had, for years, been a Boy Scout leader and Big Brother.

Vargas shot McNeill in his doorway. Point blank. In front of McNeill’s wife. Vargas then stayed with McNeill for half an hour while he died. He has never denied that he murdered the man.

(to the right: Aaron Vargas not long before falling prey to Darrell McNeill)

Even McNeill’s wife (now widow), eyewitness to the crime, herself has pleaded leniency for Vargas, saying she has “no reason not to believe Aaron.”

It seems McNeill's stepson, his friends, other boy scouts, and scores of vulnerable boys in Fort Bragg had been raped and preyed upon, repeatedly, by Darrell McNeill over the years.

The town has rallied to Vargas’s defense, saying that there is revenge, and then there is justice, and that this shooting was the latter: A way of seeking justice, putting things aright.

Now, I know that giving Aaron Vargas a pass on ridding the world of the monster named Darrell McNeill is tantamount to endorsing vigilante justice, and believe me, I don’t believe in the populace taking justice and retribution into their own hands. And I don’t envy the police and prosecutors in Fort Bragg – no one wants to make those kinds of gut-wrenching decisions.

I’m just saying. Sometimes revenge looks pretty sweet. Like justice, in fact.

And the knowledge that I could go there, just that fast -- just like Aaron Vargas did--does inform my writing...especially the really hard stuff. Like justice, vengeance, and revenge.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Wrath of Rachael

I'm terrible at revenge. Given a good night's sleep and a sunny morning, I'll forgive most people most things. I stubbornly refuse to see the worst in people, even when they're displaying their ugliness for all the world to view. Even when they're pointing at it, showing it to me, saying, "Look here, I'm a terrible, awful person, and I hate you, you're ugly, and your mama's ugly, too," I'm the one saying soothingly, "Oh, no, you don't mean that, it's just been a long day and you're tired. Just have a rest and a sandwich. You'll feel better tomorrow."

So when people are actually mean, I don't understand it and I can only think that they're sad and scared. When people are actually angry, I can only think that they're hurt. I'm not sure that mean or angry really exist, except as mile markers, signposts for sad and hurt. (Don't say that to an angry person, though. They won't buy it, and you might get clobbered.)

But revenge, in writing, is so interesting. As is anger. And meanness. And pain. I always need to UP those things in my writing. I can't run around to all my characters soothing them (although I try), making every little hurt better. What I'd like to do is let them all sit around chatting, engaging in funny banter. Then, ideally, someone would stand up and say something mildly rude. Then my characters would spend the next hundred pages engaging in friendly therapeutic encouraging dialogue, and then everyone would sing a rousing kumbaya around a pretty campfire and turn in for an early night.

However, my editor won't let me do that (DAMN IT). Something about "emotional depth" and "real conflict." Whatever. Books with plot. Ahem. (I jest, of course. I want to read books with depth. They're just slightly harder to write than books without.)

So revenge. I need to dwell on the possibilities, even if I can't seem to act on them.

(The urge to insert a smiley face is almost physically unbearable. So...)


Monday, February 22, 2010

Seriously - Don't Mess With Me

by Sophie


Everyone thinks I'm such a nice person.

Oh, in many ways, I suppose I am. I try to do more good than harm, give my all to being a worthy parent, and attempt to encourage and appreciate the people around me. I was raised to be polite, including the old-fashioned values of modesty and deferring to others. I believe in the value of social conventions like pleasant greetings and good conversation and the currency of favors.

But I do not care to be crossed.

If someone deliberately threatens, harms, or betrays me or mine, my rage is immeasurable. And I can hold a grudge nearly forever.

In the past few years, a number of people have earned my wrath. As my friends can attest, I do not forget. I add it to the simmering brew in my soul, a sort of sourdough starter for vengeance.

I do not react quickly. Usually, I do not react at all, at least in perceptible ways. I don't key people's cars or hack their facebook pages or even undermine them subtly in conversation.

No, what I do is even worse: I wait.

I wait with the unshakeable conviction that my self-justified rage is enough to tip the balance of the universe, in the long run, in ways that will restore balance. By not getting on their level and fighting back, I don't risk damaging my own karma; I sleep fine at night. But I do send red-hot mental poxes their way with the expectation that misfortune will follow. And you know what - freakily, frighteningly, it often does.

I will tell you only the tiniest historic example rather than risk upsetting the delicate balance of the Soph-iverse by revealing any situations still in play:

Many years ago I belonged to a different RWA chapter in another state. 99.9% of the members were lovely. One was not. In fact, she was rude, condescending, and mean. She had several books out, and I had only enthusiasm, ideas, and a lame first manuscript. She took many opportunities to remind me that I was lesser: unwelcome to hang out with the "real" writers, unqualified to give my opinion, uninitiated into the inner circle of publishing. Every snub hurt, though I tried not to show it at the time.

Fast forward many, many years. I still see her, every year, at the national conference. She doesn't remember me. I don't acknowledge her. But I outlasted her. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that she isn't at the top of any bestseller lists.

Never in a million years will I tell her name. First of all, it feels kind of...mean. Now that she's the one who's struggling, I don't want to be the person who gloats or takes any success I've had for granted. And second, it's just possible that I was wr...that I was wr-wr-wr...that I was (someone smack me on the back and fast) wr-WRONG! Okay, okay, it's possible that I was wrong. That she truly is a lovely gal who just didn't care for me. It happens. *

Just for balance, I'll tell you one author who was much, much nicer to me than she ever had to be, and encouraged me to keep writing: Martha Powers. Just in case you find this through google alerts or something Martha - BIG THANKS! You rock!

* for anyone who doubts that it happens - that there are people who don't care for me for no good reason - i give you exhibit A, our regular waitress at the venue where my RWA chapter has its monthly meetings. "She don't care for me," I observed one recent Saturday when she'd scowled and sighed and smirked her way through our lunch. This surprised me mostly because I usually have great waitress rapport, having been one for a zillion years - we sorta stick together, the sisterhood. Anyway the next month when the gal snapped and spat and did everything but pour tea in my lap, my friend says to me "She sure doesn't like you." See? It wasn't in my head! This one, however, requires no revenge; I figure a monthly encounter with two dozen rowdy RWA members is punishment enough...

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Mystery of Romance

Today's guest --with the last word on romance-- is, appropriately enough, Penny Warner, author of the newly published HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY.

I was forced to offer Penny a guest spot on Pensfatales in exchange for a highly coveted invitation to her release party at the Peasant and the Pear in Danville...and a suitably killer party it was, too. Live music, an auction, tips on party planning, chocolate roses, more cool homemade party schwag than you could shake your free wine at...this woman's got it all.

Oh, she's also an incredibly accomplished writer of both fiction and non-fiction, as well as being wicked funny. Thanks, Penny, for agreeing to post!

P.S. I was kidding about having to buy my way into her party -- it was open to all, and jam-packed with her rabid fans, friends, and family! Nonetheless, I managed to score three chocolate roses...

Thanks, Julie and the Pens Fatales, for letting me share some space on your wonderful blog! I love the current topic—romance! And while I write primarily murder mysteries, I always include a love interest in my stories. All murder and no sex makes mysteries a dull read, don’t you think?

As for me, I prefer “sexual tension” to on-the-page sex, mainly because I find the “game of love” a more compelling page-turner than reading about a comfortable relationship between a couple. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s what I’ve had with my husband of 40 years.

Still, fantasy romance is fun. In my first series, my deaf protagonist, Connor Westphal, meets attractive Dan Smith in DEAD BODY LANGUAGE. Connor publishes her own weekly newspaper in the town of Flat Skunk, located in the California Gold country. Her office neighbor is a mysterious guy, newly arrived in town, looking for his private investigator brother. When bro turns up dead after following a case, Dan takes over his job, using his former police officer background to help Connor solve the mystery.

But it’s their first meeting that was the most fun to write.

“Who the hell are you?” asks Connor when she discovers the man with arms of steel in the office next door. When he tries to flirt with her by saying, “With that accent, you don’t sound like you’re from around here. Where’d you get it?” But the attempt falls flat when Connor responds, “Meningitis.”

Right off the bat, the reader knows this will be a cat-and-mouse game of love between the two very different personalities. Through the series Connor takes the romance slowly, having been burned by an old boyfriend who cheated on her. But by book three, Connor finds herself in bed with Dan. Instead of writing the details of their “body language,” I turn the sex into sex play—and have fun with it.

For example, when Dan is awakened in Connor’s bed by fairly violent shaking, he fears it’s an earthquake—common in the area—and jumps up, stark naked, to brace himself under a door jamb. Meanwhile, Connor enjoys the view of Dan’s naked body, then pushes a button on the side of her bed. There’s been no earthquake. Connor, being deaf and unable to use a standard alarm clock, has a “Shake-Awake” alarm attached to her bed, which causes it to tremble in the morning, waking her for the day ahead. Mortified, Dan returns to bed, but his embarrassment quickly disappears when he realizes Connor’s bed has other uses in the romance department….

So you see, I like to have fun with it. That way if my mother reads it, she may blush but she won’t die of a heart attack.

Now that I’m starting a new series, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, I’ve got a new protagonist, Presley Parker, event planner who lives and works on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay Area. She meets Brad Matthews, an attractive Crime Scene Cleaner, who joins her in her pursuit of truth, justice, and the solving of mysteries. When they first meet, Presley calls Brad a “lunatic,” and he tries to check her breath for alcohol. Not an auspicious beginning—but just the kind I like. And between murders, the two characters enjoy some back-and-forth repartee, often laced with sexual innuendoes.

Brad reached over to accept Pandora’s box. As he did, his shirt rose, revealing a glimpse of his tan, tight waist. That wasn’t all. There was a definite bulge in his pants. As flattering as it would have been, Brad Matthews wasn’t necessarily happy to see me.

That was a gun in his pocket.

So while I’m not quite ready to write a full-on sex scene for the page, I’m looking forward to doing a lot more research on the topic….:0

Penny Warner has published over 50 books, both fiction and non-fiction, for adults and children, including over a dozen party books. Her latest book, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, is the first in a new mystery series. Her books have won national awards, garnered excellent reviews, and have been printed in 14 countries. Her first mystery, DEAD BODY LANGUAGE, in her Connor Westphal series featuring a deaf reporter in the California Gold Country, won a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery and was nominated for an Agatha Award. Her non-fiction book, THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK, was nominated for an Agatha Award. Warner writes for party sites such as,,, and, and with her husband Tom creates interactive murder mystery fundraisers for libraries across the country. She can be reached at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Tough Act To Follow

They met in graduate school in the 1960s.

They were immediately inseparable, and continued to be so--until the plane crash.

It was a small plane. During the flight, one of the engines caught on fire. It wasn't like in the movies, where everyone runs around screaming. Passengers were silent and contemplative. They knew they were going to die.

Only they didn't. The pilot manage to land safely. But that experience left its mark.

They had a baby in the 1970s. Whenever they had to fly somewhere without their child, they bought tickets for flights one after the other--they wouldn't get on the same flight, for fear that they would orphan their beloved child.

It didn't matter how old the child got. I graduated from high school; they flew separately. I graduated from college; still, they wouldn't get on the same plane if it was just the two of them without me.

This didn't change until I was 26 years old and met the love of my life. It wasn't long after I met him, and they must have known it, too. I got a call that they were flying somewhere together.

I now had someone in my life who loved me as much as they loved each other, and as much as they loved me. Whatever happened out there in the crazy world, it would be all right.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Martha's First Love Story

Caveat: this post makes me seem like a total douchebag, especially in light of everyone else's lovely posts.

My first love story went like this.

I was eight when my family moved to a duplex in the Tokyo burbs. My neighbor, Paul, was a few years older with shaggy blond hair, blue eyes and amazing cheekbones. I was obsessed with him and timed my commute to school so we had to walk together.

One day, the neighborhood boys invited me to their snowball fight.

I wasn't fast, and I couldn't throw very far. I solved this by packing my snowballs with sand from the local park to give them extra weight - and I nailed Paul right in the face.

(As an adult, I know this is sucky, but I was eight - gimme a break.)

Paul clutched his cheek and ran from the park. A few minutes later, the neighborhood boys scattered as his mom approached. I remember this moment with crystal clarity. She strode over in brown leather equestrian boots and a puffy marooon coat, hands stuffed in pockets.

She proceeded to lecture me.

I had hurt Paul.
I should be more careful.
She knew I "wasn't a bad person, per se," but was obviously misguided.

I listened. I nodded. Five minutes went by. Then ten. It occurred to me this wouldn't end until I apologized. So I did, and lemme tell ya, it was disingenuous as hell.

Because on the inside...

On the inside I was thinking, "Are you kidding me?"

(8 yrs old and future love cynic)

The next time I saw Paul, his hair was not so shiny and his cheekbones were rather dull. He was just such a dweeb (total 80's insult).

How could I have been in love with someone who couldn't take a rigged snowball to the face? I had endured worse (we're talking metal-nunchucks-to-the-head worse) and I was younger and a girl.

Paul and I lived next door to each other for five years. He got taller and better looking. But it didn't matter. Even as he sparked the interest of my friends, he never again sparked mine.

I never found him hot, funny, clever, or cool again.

So maybe his mom had it wrong. Maybe I'm not merely misguided. Maybe I am a bad person. But at least I'm not a weak-ass narc.

Ah, first love. Ain't it grand?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

love's romance

how do i define this topic? how do i transcend the beautiful relationships that have already been depicted at pens fatales? I can't. Frankly, I'm not crazy about Valentine's Day. It annoys me that one day a year, men and women are supposed to honor something that should take precedence all year long.

i believe in romance. i believe in the power of love to transcend other boundaries.

but, you may be cynical. you may nay say. and that is your right. however, i believe that if you believe in the power of love, your life will be better, richer, and happier.

all i can do is offer my own examples and hope that you are open to my interpretation of romance:

romance is not giving a dozen roses on february 14th, it's impromptu delivery when life has thrown a curve ball, and you are down in the dumps.

romance is traveling thru a blizzard to buy a torchiere (that while beautiful was outside of a budget) to be waiting in the living room when you get home from a business trip!

love is refusing to let others take care of your spouse when she is beyond reasoning and really cannot function without care.

romance is picking up take out when life has totally kicked you in the butt and/or cooking dinner, even deciding what to cook for dinner, is beyond your capability.

love is spending four hours at the mall when all you want is to sit in front of the t.v.

love is taking out the garbage when you are tired but your loved one is exhausted.

i know that there are many other examples that i should be defining, but my husband is sick and all i can do is worry and plan how i can make his life easier. because ....
love is defined in all the little things. Anyone can be thoughtful one day a year, but for me, the true definition of love is a partner who cares for you, who tends to your needs and who looks out for you all year long....

Monday, February 15, 2010

Love as a Practice of Freedom

L.G.C. Smith

At fourteen, my reaction to reading "Romeo and Juliet" was "Really? Did they try talking to each other?" Too stupid to live was invented for that pair.

My approach hasn't changed much over the years. Faced with the power of love in a public forum (that isn't fiction), I intellectualize it. In that spirit, I offer a bit from the conclusion of my my doctoral dissertation, an ethnographic study of romance writers completed a very long time ago (1997). I still stand by it.

The romance genre is not devoted to providing erotica for women readers, even though sexuality and sex are important components in many books. It is not about simple stories for bored housewives who need to be reconciled to the indignities of patriarchy. It is not about changing gender relations, even though almost all of the writers I studied consciously addressed those issues.

Romance novels are about love. Not love as a syrupy excess of florid prose, flowing locks, and brandished sabers. Not love as the sweaty realism of hormonal need and available bodies. Not love granted as a reward to pretty girls by powerful men. Or to pretty men by powerful women.

Romance novels are about what hooks (1994) calls "l
ove as a practice of freedom." They are about the kinds of love that are willing to explore differences when one human being spies a speck of humanity in another that they did not expect. Romance novels are about love as a border crossing. The borders lie between two individual, historical subjects. Often they involve the types of borders that confound us so much in our public and personal lives: race, ethnicity, class, gender. Some writers are more skilled than others, certainly, but the stories told in romance novels are inherently and necessarily about transformation.

As a society, we need to learn more about what it means to love as an act of will and choice, and this is the purview of romance novels. It may be fevered glances and glowing smiles that bring romance lovers together, but it is determined practice that keeps them
there. The primary message in romance in that love is possible for everyone, the kind of love that is strong enough to build families and communities out of individuals with differences that might just as easily isolate them.

Read the novels, and this becomes apparent. Read Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Kathleen Eagle, Laura Kinsale, Barbara Samuel, Judith Ivory, Loretta Chase, Lynn Kerstan, Pamela Morsi, Connie Brockway, Nora Roberts, Jennifer Crusie, and so many, many more
. hooks (1994) writes that the "moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others." The vast majority of evidence I found in romance writers lives demonstrates that they use literacy practices as part of liberatory life practices that understand love as the fundamental basis for action in the world.

hooks, bell. 1994. Outlaw Culture:Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Opposites Attract: The Secret to a Successful Marriage

Today's Pens Guest is Carla Buckley, whose debut novel, THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE, blew me away. It's truly one of the finest and most gripping novels to come down the pike lately. Think of a heartfelt women's fiction voice combined with the kind of nightmare future that could really happen right here in America - and globally - and you've got a thriller that's nearly impossible to put down. Plus, Carla's funny and fun, and there's definitely going to be some Pens In Action shots of her and a Pen or two this summer at Thrillerfest!

Carla's led an exciting life, with too many experiences to summarize so you'll just have to read about it at her web site. One of our favorite details is that Carla wrote a whole lot of books before selling. Here at PensFatales we are big fans of perseverence!

So we’re coming up to Valentine’s Day, and the gifted and talented authors at Pens Fatales (special shout out to Sophie!) have asked me to write up a little something on love and romance. While those who know me well choke on their coffee hearing that, let me defend myself by saying, I do know a little bit about the subject.

After all, I’ve been married for over twenty years. This fact sometimes amazes me. Other than explaining it by saying that we simply don’t have the energy to push each other under a train, it comes down to the fact that we’re completely different, which gives a certain edge to our relationship. We’re constantly on guard to see where the other one is headed.

My husband is tall, tan, and athletic. I’m…not. He can sleep anywhere, anytime. World War III can be playing on the Xbox five feet away and he’ll snore right through it. I need darkness so thick you can cut it with scissors, tomblike silence, and socks. My husband has no emotional relationship with food, which, let me tell you, puts a real strain on our marriage. I mean, who can live with someone like that? He can resist a bag of Kettle chips for weeks, while my food pyramid is solidly founded on potato products and chocolate. Then there’s the fact that he thinks before he speaks. What’s up with that?

All these differences are manageable. Annoying, yes, but nothing a super-sized order of French fries can’t fix. Really, it’s the fact that he’s generous and selfless that is a problem for me. Who can live with someone who always considers other people first? It leaves the mean stuff up to me, and because we have kids, there’s a big demand for that sort of thing around here.

When the media began talking about how the world was overdue for a deadly flu pandemic, I knew I was doomed. Not just because I was worried I’d get sick, but because I’d be fighting the great fight. My husband would be the one shoveling neighbors’ driveways, giving them our last bottle of ibuprofen, offering to drive them to the hospital. I’d be the one hiding our food so he couldn’t give it away, misplacing our car keys so he couldn’t loan out our car with the scant half-tank of gas, and spread-eagling myself across the doors so he couldn’t swing them wide open to ask passersby in for hot chocolate.

I channeled this anxiety into my debut novel, THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE, where a married couple battles not only a pandemic, but one another. Peter wants to save the world. Ann wants to save just one tiny piece of it--their children. Think War of the Roses meets Outbreak, and you pretty much have the level of tension in the Brooks’s household.

Writing THINGS was cathartic. Figuring out Peter helped me understand my husband better. Giving Ann a voice made me feel less driven to raise my own. In a sense, my novel might have saved my marriage. That, plus it gave me some really great ideas on where to hide the car keys.

What about you? Is your relationship founded on the notion of opposites attract, or misery loves company?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why I Write Romance

--Adrienne Miller

About five thousand years ago, this couple died. We probably won’t ever know much about them, not who they were, or the specifics of their lives. Chances are, we won’t even know how they died. But none of that matters, does it? Everything I could ever want to know about them, I already do. 
Their bodies died. Their flesh fell away. But their love, the connection that bound them together, death couldn’t strip that away. Not even after five thousand years. 
Sometimes people ask me why I write romance. Most ask out of honest curiosity, but some don’t. Some ask without bothering to conceal their derision. Now, I have about a dozen pet theories about why romance novels get a bad rap, but I find my rants about the fear female-centric sexuality usually go better when I’m a pint or two into the evening, so I’ll spare you those...for now.  Besides, I think I’ll take Martha's advice. I’m done defending my genre. I’ve decided to celebrate it instead.
There are a lot of reasons that I write romance, the most important seems to be that I can’t manage to come up with a plot that doesn’t turn into a love story somewhere along the way. Love stories are the ones that pull me in. Besides, I truly believe they are important. These are the stories that highlight the redemptive nature of our lives. 
Love, romantic love in particular, is one of the few things that make us uniquely human. Everything dies. Everything suffers. Fear, rage, pain--these are our raw animal emotions. I’m not denying they are a huge part of all of us. But love makes them bearable. Love allows us focus as much on our god-like nature as on our animal. And that journey, with all its sacrifices, from self-centeredness to true connection, makes for some damn compelling reading as far as I’m concerned. 
Maybe I am a true hopeless romantic. I’m cool with that. I just hope that the archeologists five thousand years from now find enough evidence to prove that our capacity to love each other was just as strong as our capacity to hate.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Fine Romance (by Juliet)

Mem and Rudy met in Houston sixty-six years ago, when he was a brash young 22-year-old Airforce pilot-in-training from Bull Hill, Oklahoma, and she was a 19-year-old Texas rose who used to sneak out of her mama's house to dance with the boys in uniform. He made her laugh; she had the prettiest eyes he'd ever seen. They danced, courted, and wed within weeks, just before he was sent to join the war effort in Europe.

Her full name was Meredith, but Rudy called her Mary Edith just to tease her. They had two fine, healthy boys, but their youngest, a daughter, was born with profound disabilities. Rather than drive them apart, her needs drew the family together. Her name was Joanie, but for some reason Rudy called her his Sweet Trudy. He had his own way of seeing the world.

Rudy flew in World War II and in Korea, earned a chestful of medals and moved steadily up the chain of command. He was stationed in Saigon during the Vietnamese War, and after a short period of time he came to believe that our involvement there was deeply wrong. He refused to fly; the military threatened a court martial. Rudy essentially told them to Bring It On...he carried the phone number for the New York Times in his wallet. After decades of combat service in the military, this old Okie guessed he knew a thing or two about right and wrong. He won that fight.

Nonetheless, Rudy was scarred by his time in Vietnam, as were so many others. He was exposed to Agent Orange and spent the rest of his life struggling to breathe. Still, he never stopped fixing cars (Studebakers were his favorites), never stopped making time for kids (he was everyone's favorite uncle/grandpa/great-grandpa), and he never stopped making Mem laugh.

And her blue eyes never stopped sparkling. Mem was one of the most accepting, non-judgmental people I've ever known, with a ready laugh and a sly wit. Though she had been raised by a southern mother to be a "lady", she told me that she didn't think those skills were very useful in Real Life. Indeed, when she realized her daughter Joanie was not getting access to the care she needed, Mem became a fierce tigress of an advocate, making herself known to, and feared by, congresspeople and health personnel alike. Though she never had much schooling --we used to tease her for reading the National Enquirer, a rag she insisted gave readers profound insights into unknown worlds-- she had a keen business sense, and managed to eke out enough savings from Rudy's military pay to start buying small pieces of land wherever they were transferred; in the end, they were quite comfortable.

And they never stopped laughing.

Toward the end, the pair moved into an assisting-living apartment with separate beds, the idea being that they could both get uninterrupted sleep. One night they called for help; Rudy had fallen while trying to get from his bed into Mem's. They had slept together for sixty-five years; he wasn't about to let a health problem or two get in the way of that. Apparently when the aides arrived Mem and Rudy were both rolling on the floor, giggling like naughty teenagers caught with straw in their hair.

Rudy passed away last June; six weeks later my aunt joined him. She was ready. Mem said Rudy would be waiting for her, ready to make her laugh.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


When Lala and I got married, we did it on the cheap, as we do most things. Our friends provided the food for the wedding, and people pooled their photos for our album. But a few weeks before the big day, we still hadn't come up with the funds for rings, and we were just going to go somewhere and buy cheap bands -- we weren't too concerned.

I was talking to my mother about this, and she protested, "Oh, no, I have a envelope of old family rings, I'll send it to you and you can choose two you like."

I was moved by this, as was Lala, and when we got the envelope, we tried on all the bands at our dining room table. Each was marked with a little flag of paper with a name. The one I loved the most was marked Wilson, and Lala's was labeled Ashcroft.

I couldn't quite work out who the rings had belonged to, so I called Mom. She laughed and said they'd both belonged to her mother. I'd chosen her mother's second wedding ring -- the one she'd worn when she'd married George, the man I'd always known as Grandpa. But Lala had chosen the ring Grandma had worn when she'd married my mother's father. The widow's ring.

Lala's first wife died of cancer. Lala is a widow.

So now we both wear the same woman's rings, rings of love, rings that symbolized happy marriages. And Lala wears the widow's ring.

Monday, February 8, 2010

One Perfect Moment

by Sophie

Love & Romance

To my great astonishment and horror, blogger ate my post.

This has never happened to me before in what must be hundreds of posts by now. I had written a long and rather didactic essay on injecting interest into your fictional romantic relationships with the ol' inversion trick, playing off the unexpected, exploring attraction based on complex and layered experiences and emotions and not just the obvious.

Oh, blah, blah, blah, I bored myself so it's no wonder blogger too was bored and obliterated the thing as punishment.

Instead of trying to recreate that lumbering mess, I'm instead going to share a single romantic moment from my own past, one small interlude that occurred over two decades ago.

Chicago. Freezing, blowing snow. First year out on my own, first time I'd ever shared a place with a man. Christmas approaching; everything new and tentative and a little scary and a little silly. A tree for our apartment: sixty dollars we couldn't afford from a lot in Lincoln Park, much more Charlie Brown than Hallmark. A string of lights from Walgreens, Christmas cards signed - giddily! - with both our names.

Going shopping. holding mittened hands - it's hard to do; it was zero degrees and my mittens were bulky, his leather gloves were thick. What gift to get for his brothers, my mom? Taking our time exploring the little boutiques on Oak street; everything out of our price range, and then spending all our money not on gifts but on one perfect handmade frame in an art studio, for a photo of the two of us, which I will never ever throw away, though the hairstyle and the dress have long since faded from fashion and the day itself is lost to memory.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pens In Action!

Juliet and Sophie stopped by the launch party for Friday's guest, Kelli Stanley. It was held at M Is For Mystery in San Mateo, CA last Tuesday. And what a party it was...

Kelli reading from her amazing new novel, CITY OF DRAGONS

They maybe shouldn't have put Juliet and Sophie in charge of the bar (those are CANDY cigarettes, fyi!)

Friday, February 5, 2010

If the Shoe Fits …

Today we welcome Kelli Stanley, author of the much-anticipated new mystery CITY OF DRAGONS (Feb 09, Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's). Kelli made her mark with NOX DORMIENDA, which won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award. Kelli is a supporter and friend to many local mystery, thriller and romance authors and we're delighted to have her here!

So today I’m here to talk about shoes. And Pens Fatales, you wonderful writers—thanks for having me over to dish! ☺

First, know that I adore shoes. Well-made Spanish or Italian leather pumps with wood frames get my heart racing. When I was very young and lived in Italy—not too far from the Florence market—I used to ogle the shoes in the window, and try to bargain for the ones that I loved the most.

I still own a few … gorgeous green leather, matching bags. Ah, the ‘80s … I guess they’re vintage now, but hell—then so am I. ;)

The trouble is that I can’t wear ‘em. High heels are insanely uncomfortable! I grew up on a farm and my feet became accustomed to more practical kinds of footwear, the kind you need to hike and walk and feed livestock in. So while my mind may drool over espadrilles or back-strap sandals, my feet yearn for the comfortable.

There are a couple of designers I really like—Josef Seibel is one--who can produce very Euro style shoes that won’t make your feet scream. When I’m out and about on book tour—which I am right now—I tend to favor these shoes—German styling and craftsmanship, but comfortable enough to handle two bookstore events in a single day.

I also love boots. Hey, remember I was young in the ‘80s, so I’ve never lost my attachment for ankle boots. And let’s face it … boots just give you an edge. They’re Diana Rigg, they’re Honor Blackman, they’re a leather power trip all unto themselves. Boots are the ultimate sexy footwear, in my opinion …

Speaking of sexy footwear, I enjoyed the shoe research I had to do for CITY OF DRAGONS. I even purchased some shoes from the ‘40s, so I could get an idea of how they were made, what they felt like. Those specifics didn’t make it into the book—though relative prices did—and Miranda, my protagonist, definitely has an eye for footwear … and a shoe store plays an important role in the plot.

Back in 1940 San Francisco, pumps were the main evening shoe in the winter, but sandals and wedge heels were popular during the summer. Miranda’s “working” clothes—when she’s working the clubs in search of philandering men on behalf of their wives—need to be the ultimate in fashion, yet long-lasting and practical, too.

And of course, there were no “comfort” shoes then, and people generally walked more. Miranda’s leg muscles are very strong—another plot point. Walking up and down Mason Street—where her apartment is—every day in heels will do that. ☺

But Miranda’s “real” shoe—you know, the shoe we wear not on our feet but in our minds, like my green Italian pumps—is quite different. While her pumps are femme fatale, it’s her identity as a detective that is the most important thing to her.
Femme fatale on the outside, she’s complex and tough and hardboiled and vulnerable and scarred on the inside. And she’s determined and driven to make a difference.

So yeah … her favorite shoe is a gumshoe. Because that’s what she is.

And it’s my favorite shoe, too. ☺

Thanks again for having me over, ladies—it’s been a blast!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Soul Has a Rubber Sole

I want it all.

Yes, I mean I want shoes that are both cute and comfortable.

I have 12 pairs of shoes. I love each one of them. Keeping me from having an overflowing closet is the fact that I only buy shoes when they meet both of my demands.

It's tough. It requires patience. But it's worth it. And from my various attempts over the years to find the perfect shoes for imperfect feet (mine are overly long and narrow), I've learned a few lessons.

Lesson 1: Always buy rubber soled shoes.

Really, life's too short to bother with painful shoes.

I learned this lesson by the time I got to college. It was especially easy to achieve back then, since I had hippy tendencies and pretty much lived in my Birkenstocks (while playing Indigo Girls songs on my acoustic guitar, of course).

After visiting Edinburgh back when painting pictures on Doc Martens was all the rage, I decided to paint my paint-friendly rubber soled shoes: my Docs and my Converse. I hadn't yet discovered the existence of comfortable high heels, so I could at least have some fun with my shoes through art.

Aside: It's surprisingly difficult to find photos of shoes in old photos--for some reason photographers focus on faces and neglect the shoes, even when they are fabulous cherry Docs with a gargoyle painted on the side of them. But I still have my Converse with the head of a dragon I painted on the side.

Lesson 2: John Fluevog understands.

I didn't wear heels until pretty recently. I really wanted to, because at 5 foot 9, when I put on 3 inch heels I end up 6 feet tall, which is just so cool. But with my desire for comfort and challenge of having long and narrow feet, it was always difficult to find heels comfortable enough that I'd bother to wear them.

Nine West used to have a line called Could Nine with rubber soled high heels, but they discontinued the line in favor of more stylish, yet much less comfortable, shoes. Grr. With that change, out went my foray into the land of high heels--until I moved to San Francisco and made a wonderful discovery.

The Operetta line of Fluevog shoes proves that it is possible to make stylish shoes with comfort in mind. Oh, how I love these shoes. Pictured here are my burgundy operetta boots (above left), and black operetta mary janes (top right).

Lesson 3: eBay is your friend.

Even though John Fluevog understands how to make the perfect cute and comfortable shoe, he doesn't make his shoes with those of us who have day jobs at nonprofits in mind. After finding my size at the store, I wait for their twice-yearly sale or check the listings on eBay (the burgundy boots came from the former, and the mary janes from the latter).

Lesson 4: Color should not be feared.

It's true that it's not always easy to buy bright purple boots when there are sleek black ones next to them. But I've never regretted a single one of my colorful purchases.

If you've gotta have rain boots--which turned out to be quite necessary this winter--at least they can be fun.

But I always make sure those colorful shoes have rubber soles.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Martha Breaks Down A Basic Shoe Wardrobe

Some of you are shoe experts. Read no further. The rest of you are delicate shoe caterpillars waiting for someone to cocoon you in guidance so you can emerge killer shoe butterflies.

But fashion magazines are confusing and conflicting. Finances are strained. Choices are many. Where to invest? In a moderate climate, here's the order in which you should invest in shoes:

1. A sensible pair of athletic shoes should always be your first priority. Why? Because your health is important and also because there could be a natural disaster, and you'd need to walk your ass somewhere safe. (Note - these are not apocalypse friendly shoes - apocalypse shoes are a whole nutha level best left to another post.)

2. Work friendly shoes for whatever it is you do. For me, that's biz friendly attire which means sensible pumps. I recommend round toe (the days of foot-binding are over, people) and stacked mid-length heels in black and one other neutral color to match with the greatest variety of pant hems, fabrics, and skirts. Details like straps and buckles can add to your personal style if need be.

(The Taryn Rose brand is definitely an investment piece, but the shoes are designed by a foot doctor and I swear you can walk in them for days and not get moody and chew out someone at a board meeting thus keeping you employed and able to buy more shoes.)

3. Boots. I like Frye's cowgirl style in black and wear them with EVERYTHING because this is the shoe that's "me" but if you're the sexy type then this is the place to go for a pointy toe or stiletto heel because the extra support of the boot will make the style more comfortable.

4. Flats. One ballet style with a kitten heel and one regular flat with a decorate feature like rouche detail or a floret. One in black, the other in a different neutral. Again, great for short hemmed jeans or work pants and adorable with skirts and dresses.

5. Stunner shoes. I'm a fan of stacked heel and a t-strap. Classic shoes like heeled pumps and d'orsays seem more biz friendly to me so I save stunner shoes for the shoe that no one else is wearing but that still has something classic about it so it'll last from season to season and could, if need be, act as a backup work shoe.

6. Summer shoes. You're going to beat the crap out of these so feel free to cheap it up. One pair of flat thong sandals and a summer sandal like a wedge. If you keep the wedge neutral then it also might work for biz wear on warm days, but do something cute with the thong sandals because there's no need to be uber neutral when you're sipping pina coladas on a beach.

So there! Go forth! Spend with confidence!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Shoes: A Love Affair

Shoes: A Love Affair

Shoes in this author photo are stiletto heel, BCBG ankle boots with a chrome buckle

Shoes are a complicated subject. I have a weakness for shoes. All kinds. Sexy shoes with high heels and bits of ribbon and curlicues, comfortable shoes ergonomically designed, chunky-heeled boots, shell-decorated thongs, beaded mules, sleek suede pumps, peek-a-boo cut-outs in black patent, even my slippers are adorned with rows of fake jewels. But before you love affair with shoes was born of a desperate time in a young girl’s life.

When I was in fifth or sixth grade (I’m really not sure, I’ve pretty much blocked out this painful period in my life) I had to get corrective shoes. My arches were falling or my feet were flat or scoliosis was big back then, I don’t remember, but some such dire thing required me to wear corrective shoes. And yes, as you properly surmised, corrective shoes were ugly. One style. Lace up. You could choose your color--in either dirt brown or dock worker black. I got the brown ones. Seriously, seriously ugly shoes. And I didn’t have a choice.

I had to wear those hideous shoes for several years. Along about the same time, I got glasses because my eye sight was failing and braces because my teeth were crooked. You couldn’t get much more pathetic than me with glasses, braces and corrective shoes. At this formative period in my young life, things were NOT GOOD.

So fast forward to a few years later and teeth were fixed, contacts installed and that’s when my love affair with pretty and colorful shoes began.

In high school, it was all about my black and white saddle-backs with my pom-pom uniform, the fake wood heels and soft brown leather upper clogs with my pencil-legged Gloria Vanderbilt cords, high-heeled Candie’s in the hot color of the season.

Then in college came the boots. Purple leather flat boots with the button on the side. Red leather flat boots with a small heel. If I had a brown pair, they hid in the back of my closet. For comfort, black canvas high tops, Converse tennies, and roman gladiator sandals.

When work came along, I was in shoe heaven. I wore funky suits almost every day and had the matching pumps to prove it. Hot pink, electric blue, metallic bronze all in a stiletto heel.

Nowadays, I stick more to comfort. But if you peek in my closet, you’ll still see a rainbow of colors and heel heights. I scour shoe sales and clearance racks so it’s a cheap affair. Give me a choice between a new pair of shoes and a new pair of jeans and the shoes will win every time.

Because I’m in love.


Monday, February 1, 2010

How Lovely Art Thou, Damned Cruel Shoes

L.G.C. Smith

Like every other aspect of material culture, the shoes we choose, wear and keep for decades after we last wore them say something about what matters to us. Or the state of our feet, which is more of an issue for some of us than others.

Here's the thing: I have problem feet. They hurt. A lot. Often. This is a family trait from my mom's side. When I was a kid, as soon as the morning wake-up call sounded, all of us responded with a chorus of "ow, ow, ow, ow, ow" as o
ur poor little feet hit the floor.

We didn't know it then, but we have a loose ligament disorder. My brother has pectus excavatum, which presents as a big dent in the middle of his chest where the ligaments failed to hold his rib cage in the proper position. All of us are pretty bendy. Including our feet and ankles, which, sadly, bodes ill for being able to take more than two steps in high heels. Heck, my sibs and I can fall off tennis shoes on a flat surface.

Added to this, my foot is wide across the toes and narrow in the heel with a really high arch. Very few shoes fit well, and the ones that do tend toward utilitarian at best. My sisters use the word 'ugly.' I haven't been able to wear heels for two and half decades. I keep a pair of high heeled boots I bought and wore three times in 1979. I adored them. They crippled me. Yet I've kept them all these years. Why? So I can look at them every couple of years, and remind myself of what might have been if I'd had stronger feet.

Blisters. How many thousands of them have I had over the years?
I always had them as a kid. I can get them in thirty seconds from the wrong shoe. When I realized most people didn't have them all the time, I grew resentful. It's so not fair.

I love boots. Can I wear them? Rarely. I have gargantuan calves, and not just because I'm fat. Then beneath my monster calves I have narrow, weak ankles. Bad combo, I have to tell you. But I keep trying boots. I have a pair of ancient cowboy boots that I wore a lot when I lived in South Dakota. When I still worked at universities, I fantasized about having custom boots made. I even found a place that could do it. But I made do with ankle boots, which, while nice enough, aren't the same as ones that go all the way to the knee (no comment on the over-the-knee boots one sees lately; oh, maybe one comment -- trashy). It's hard to justify custom footwear in a middle-class life with a career that allows pajamas as acceptable work attire.

On top of all the physiological failings of my feet, I've had many bouts of plantar fasciitis. Most of my attempts to develop a regular exercise program (cross-country ski machine, treadmill, even regular walking) end up in long months of excruciating pain and recovery. Now I have exercises that help a lot, but the miseries of PF have left a lasting impression on my shoe wardrobe.

The result of all these foot woes is a boring collection of sensible shoes with wide toe boxes and good arch support. Clarks and New Balance are my cobblers of choice. I will never spend hundreds of dollars on a juicy pair of Jimmy Choos. Stacy and Clinton would kick me off "What Not to Wear" in less time than it takes me to trip in a pair of low-heeled pumps.

I love cute shoes. Elegant shoes. Stratospheric heels. Strappy little sandals. Boots of all sorts. All kinds of shoes. Alas, they don't love me. So for this life, I'm resigned to being happy if my shoes don't look too nasty and I can actually walk in them. Sometimes it's all about scaling down expectations.