Saturday, May 29, 2010

Has It Really Been A Year?

by Sophie

Our Anniversary!

I think this is one of those weeks when my fellow Pens are going to be gnashing their sharp pointy teeth 'cause I get to go first - a week when much of what we have to say on the topic is shared among us, and it's tough to be original. Here's a top five list of the things I think we all agree on when it comes to being Pens together:

1. Blogger has a mind of its own.
From the moment I composed my first tentative post and then thought it disappeared in Preview mode (in a hotel room a year ago with Lisa and Martha distracting me) (oh, okay, i might have been distracting them) to the other day when I wrote the longest comment ever and Blogger ate it without so much as a burp, I sometimes can't tell if it is friend or foe. But we have the best beast-tamer ever, our lovely web designer Maddee, who always makes it do what we want.

2. We're all good at something. (And nobody's good at everything.)
There have been days when I've despaired of ever being as edgy as Martha. As artistic as Gigi. As deep as Adrienne. I've coveted Lisa's wit, LGC's prose, Rachael's sweetness, and Julie's powers of observation...and despaired of ever being able to write my way out of a brown paper bag. And then the words jump out of my brain and onto the keyboard and I remember it's okay just to be me.

3. Between us, it's more like three degrees of separation than six to every interesting and lovely person in publishing.
For years I've relied on Lisa and LGC to be my walkin' talkin' Who's Who in publishing. Now I have even more resources. I was going through my BEA schedule before my trip last week and noticed a particular up-and-coming author I wanted to meet. I emailed and sure enough, in seconds on of the Pens said that of course she'd introduce us, that they regularly get mani-pedis together and invited me to the their craaaaaazy labor day Bachanalia at the Hamptons timeshare (oops, okay, I might have made that last part up.) (plus I don't know how to spell Baccannalia.)

4. A comfort zone isn't nearly as hard to put in the rear-view mirror when you have seven people always available to cheer you on.
Publishing ain't for the faint of heart. It beats you up like monster waves crashing against rocky shores, and it can be wayyy too tempting to stand back in the safety of the sand instead of jumping in. Besides, you know what's one thousand times more f'ing scary than failure? Success. Some days I want to chew strips of flesh from my arms and pull out my own hair (just like the Beaters in the book I'm working on) - instead I occasionally check in with a quick "uh, should I try?" and the answer is always a deafening HELL YEAH.

5. The Publishing industry is a much nicer place to be when you are there with friends.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wear sexy shoes and you will be a better writer

Today's guest is Mario Acevedo, vampire mystery writer extraordinaire. Mario has many opinions about all sorts of underpinnings...especially shoes.

*Oh, one question Mario-- does all this apply to the boys, as well?*

The opinions of our guests do not necessarily reflect those of the Pens...)

There’s a constant feud between genre and literary writers and here’s my take on a big difference between the two: Woman genre writers get pedicures and wear nicer shoes.

I was going to Twitter that last line but instead use it here where I was asked to discuss lingerie, metaphorical underpinnings, and lace-up boots (under which I include women’s shoes in general).

I’m sure literary writers will object to my conclusion. T.S. The exception proves the rule. At the last literary reading I was at, there were only three women in attendance (out of forty) with nice shoes. (I complimented one of them and she replied, “Mario, I was waiting for you to say something.” I do have that reputation.) So is there a metaphorical underpinning between a woman’s shoes and the kind of stories she writes? There is. I’ve been to many genre conferences--mystery, fantasy, romance--and the women wear nice shoes and show off their pedicures. Genre writers give us compelling characters in engaging plots with a clearly defined story question. These women know where they are going and what to expect at the destination.

At literary conferences, it’s a plague of gnarly toes, clunky shoes, and the most vile of all Mario repellent--Birkenstocks. Even among the young women who should know better. So then, literary writers: maybe some humor, the occasional pithy anecdote, but mostly rambling prose on a road to nowhere.

Ergo, with the certainty of rocket science. Shoe choice = type of writing.

Sadly I don’t know enough about what lingerie women genre and literary writers wear. But nice sexy shoes do indicate a predilection for satiny and silky (and perhaps leather) corsets and bustiers. Don’t forget the tiny panties, tap pants, cat suits, and Cuban heels. So I venture that women genre writers wear lingerie much more often than their literary counterparts. I detect a pattern.

What does lingerie say about metaphorical underpinnings? Quite a bit but it depends how a woman wears her foundation garments and related accessories. A woman who wears a corset and garter belt with ease and grace is telling the world not that she merely feels sexy, but that she is sexy. Hot. I’ve had women tell me they don’t need lingerie to feel sexy. Good for them, and they’re missing the point. A woman wearing lingerie has the supercharged aura of the femme fatale. Mysterious. Dangerous. And it’s that promise of mystery and danger that pulls us men in like a tractor beam. Have mercy on us.

Women genre writers understand the metaphorical underpinnings of their undergarments and shoes. They aren’t afraid to express their sexuality or show that they know where they’re going and what they want when they get there. Just as in their writing.

Happy fanging!

Mario Acevedo is the author of the Felix Gomez detective-vampire series. His latest book is WEREWOLF SMACKDOWN and his vampire characters have been spun off into a comic book series, KILLING THE COBRA, from IDW Publishing. The images are available here: The comics can be ordered from:

For a straight man, Mario knows an awful lot about women’s shoes. He lives and writes in Denver, Colorado.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What I Learned in France (Or, In a Previous Life I Must Have Been a Stonecarver Who Wrote Existential French Mystery Novels in a Parisian Café)

Having recently returned from a trip to Paris, I'm forgoing our chosen Pens topic in favor of sharing some thoughts about France.

I first visited France as a child. I was fascinated by the architectural art. There's something about those enigmatic stone gargoyles watching over the city of Paris that inspires the imagination. Maybe that's why for most of my childhood I wanted to be an architect, and I wrote my first mystery stories in elementary school.

Paris has never let me down when it comes to mystery. While backpacking through Europe after college, the day I visited the Louvre, thieves stole a Corot painting from the museum. They cut the painting from its frame with a razor blade.

If you've ever been to the Louvre, you know it's huge. This small Corot painting was in an unguarded room. When the museum guards realized it was gone, they shut the museum -- trapping thousands of us inside.

What stood out to me most that day was the fact that they didn't search each and every one of us. They were going to have a riot on their hands with the huge number of tourists trapped inside, many of whom had flights to catch. I was on the mezzanine level, underneath the glass pyramid and above the ground floor lobby, so I could see people from the lobby making their way up the spiral staircase and being searched. After a few hours, we were released.

The painting was never found.

Another interesting fact from that day at the Louvre was that a friend who I had yet to meet was also trapped in the museum that day. When we later met, we found her in one of my crowd photographs from that afternoon.

When I decided to write a mystery novel, of course there would be plenty of art and antiquities theft involved. And one of the potential love interests for the heroine, history professor Jaya Jones, is an art historian. I've written mysteries involving art intrigue in San Francisco, Scotland, and India, and I've got an idea for France coming up later in the series. (I need to finish writing the India pirate book first, so wish me luck!)

My latest trip to Paris started off in a more mellow fashion. It was inspiring for its simple pleasures. We enjoyed the good life taking long walks along market streets and eating leisurely meals while drinking carafes of wine at sidewalk cafes.

Over one such laid-back meal, my better half turned to me and said, "Why isn't life like this at home?" It was a good question. It was a simple meal at a casual cafe, but there was something special about it. Not just that we had traveled to Europe to get it. Carafes of both water and wine sat on the table. The salad was dressed simply with good olive old and vinegar. The baguette was fresh from the oven. The waiter didn't rush any of the patrons (although he did switch to English after hearing my horribly accented French, thereby not letting me practice); in fact, it was damn near impossible to get the bill at the end of any meal. I resolved to take some of that je-ne-sais-quoi home with me. A meal doesn't need to be complicated to be exquisite, but we needed to slow down to enjoy it.

Well-nourished, I set out to climb the steps to visit my old friends the gargoyles at Notre Dame...

... and stopped by the scene of that old theft.

It might have ended up a relaxing if somewhat uneventful trip, had it not been for the ash cloud.

The plan was to take the Eurostar train across the chunnel to England to spend a weekend in London before flying home. The first part of the plan worked perfectly. Unfortunately, our airline hadn't managed to work out their schedule of planes due to the new routing based on the approaching ash cloud. After a day's delay, we departed, only to find it took 42 hours in transit to get back to San Francisco.

Now that I'm home and well-rested, I'm ready for my next adventure. I think I'll go pick a salad from the garden and get back to work on that mystery novel.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Martha Can't Spell Underpinnings

A couple weeks ago when I looked up our calender of future topics so I could brainstorm what to blog, I came upon underpinnings and immediately read:


I thought to myself...oooh...pining! I love angst! I love yearning! I could totally do a blog post about about angsty yearny pining.

But Martha, you're saying to yourself, underpinings isn't a real word.

Hush your mouth! English is my second language, you know-it-all. (But imagine my surprise last week when all the talk of bras arose.)

Ahem, back to UNDERPININGS.

You know my favorite part of a novel? The black moment. When I was a kid, I used to snap the book closed at the black moment and pretend it was the ending. Why bother with happily ever after? How boring. How unsatisfying. What is there for the character to want at that point?

Wanting something gives you a goal.
A person with a goal is motivated.
A motivated person DOES THINGS.

Which leads me to my number one lesson for writing an interesting novel.

Make your character pine for something simple.

I've read a few decent novels with an MC who flounders but the stories that grip me by the throat feature MCs who WANT.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss wants to survive even if it means killing everyone else.

In The Dust of 100 Dogs, pirate girl Emer wants her rightfully earned treasure.

In What I Saw And How I Lied, Evie wants a boy.

Life. Money. Boys. SIMPLE!!!!

While the stories may have other elements they are grounded in a girl who pines for something so much she slashes and burns through obstacles.

So pine, pine away. The author who pines for publication is more likely to write write write. The character who pines for something is more likely to do interesting things to get it.

And if you're big on top like me, get your bra size measured. It will save you a lot of pain in the long run.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Underpinnings...a different kind of support

by Lisa Hughey

Well I do believe that the previous pens have definitively covered the somewhat racy subject of undergarments (insert smiley face here--I would if I could but I can't find a small one in blogger :) ) so I am going to turn my focus toward a different kind of underpinning.

Underpin (underpinned, underpinning) verb
1 to furnish a foundation for; corroborate
2 to give support or substance to

I’m fascinated by the idea that all fiction is derivative.

“Nothing is knew. It’s all been done before.”

Anyone who studies writing techniques has heard this adage. Literary writers frequently disparage commercial fiction as formulaic. I think they are missing the point. The very reason commercial fiction is criticized is the reason that commercial fiction has a wider audience. It isn’t so much formulaic as the writing is supported by an underlying mythic structure.

Our job as a writer is to take that underpinning, along with the unique details
(character strengths, weaknesses, and quirks; historical or dystopic or Wiccan settings; scientific phenomena, fact, and what ifs; paranormal talents; and the list goes on) that describe our fictional world, and craft a story. Which sounds pretty simple but in reality is a lot of hard work.

However, I believe that the reason these works appeal to so many is they tap into the stories so ingrained in our brains-even if we are unfamiliar with the old myth-that the story is viscerally attractive. And that appeal is timeless.

That’s why Cinderella story movies continue to prevail and secret baby plots will never go out of fashion.


ps. for new writers: There are lots of writing books on the reference shelf at your local library or bookstore, but Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces and the more recent Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey convey the mythic structure in a simple format, breaking down the pieces of the story into building blocks, and giving the writer the correct underpinnings.

Monday, May 24, 2010


L.G.C. Smith

Throughout my adolescence I slept with an underwire bra on under my nightgown. Why? Earthquakes. Here in California, the earth wiggles and jiggles more than Pam Anderson did on Dancing With the Stars, and with a lot less warning. If an earthquake were to strike in the middle of the night and I survived, would I want to be running around the tent city with no support for the girls? Absolutely not. It would be both mortifying and uncomfortable.

What can happen in an earthquake if you don't have a bra.

Some of us are in greater need of proper underpinnings than others. Some of us have never been petite and perky. Some of us have needed underwires since sixth grade. Some of us still keep an apocalypse-worthy bra bedside, along with the slip-on shoes and flashlight. In case of nocturnal earthquakes. Don't mock, some of us. The Big One is coming. And when it does, some of us want all the support we can get.

You know that impeccable woman Sophie described in her post last Monday? From the age of four, I wanted to be that woman. Short neck and broad shoulders aside, by the time I was twelve, it was obvious I wasn't ever going to look elegant in a linen sheath dress, no matter what kind of underpinnings I might enlist. Ample curves are not fashion forward. This is not to say they're bad -- there are compensations -- but sartorial elegance is challenging in the realms beyond DD.

Able to wear a linen sheath dress to good effect.

The search for adequate and appropriate underpinnings is a lifelong quest for some of us. It's never been as simple as popping down to Target and getting whatever's on sale. No. Ha. The selection of underpinnings available in the average clothing emporium has little to offer in larger cup sizes. At least it's now possible to find more choices online, but that leaves a lot of conjecture as far as fit is concerned. Obviously every gal who wears a 34F isn't built the same, and who knows whether the fit model was remotely like any given buyer.

In need of better underpinning.

Once, twenty years ago, I drove fifty miles to the home of a former movie costumer who ran an individualized bra fitting service out of her garage. I insisted on underwire support. She rhapsodized over the healthy support of non-underwire nursing bras. Eew. I bought a couple of basic industrial-strength metal contraptions, beggaring myself. Both of them popped a wire and stabbed me in the armpit. So much for her custom fitting skills.

In need of better underpinning for two thousand years.

Fifteen years ago, I visited Carol Doda's lingerie shop in San Francisco. If anyone should understand the physics of bras, she should. Surely even Carol didn't want to go topless all the time. Once more, I parted with vast sums of money for some solid underpinnings when I really wanted something frilly and feminine. And strong. Next, I tried ordering from catalogs, but I never got anything that fit quite right. The pretty underwire bras had the strength of Christmas tree ornament hooks. Please. If it's possible to make iPods, iPads and space stations, why not strong yet delicate bras?

Possibly in need of better underpinning.

Generally speaking, bras are better built today than in the past, and there are more sizes available. However, as I learned researching the nicer stuff for a character with a predilection for pretty undies, La Perla, as one example, doesn't offer a lot of styles beyond a C-cup. There are a few, but only in a handful of sizes. I'm tempted to rail in demand of the right to spend lavish sums on underwear in my size, but I won't be able to afford it until I'm regularly hitting the bestseller lists, so... whatever.

In need of better underpinning for miscellaneous areas.

A huge amount of effort appears to have gone into making women with B-cups look like they're Ds. Could we not have comparable efforts made toward helping the well-endowed women of the world look their best? It's still surprisingly difficult to find stores that stock a wide selection of bras in larger sizes that include both intrepid construction and lovely details that can actually be tried on. Fewer still that might possibly, gasp, fit them.

I dream of some day patronizing Rigby&Peller in London where they make custom underpinnings. Until that day comes, my earthquake bras come from the outlet mall. When The Big One hits, if I manage to salvage two of them, I can make tents for orphans out of the spare.

Bespoke underpinnings

Friday, May 21, 2010

Medieval Underwear or What Aren’t You Wearing?

Today's guest is Jeri Westerson, medieval mystery writer extraordinaire and an old friend of the mystery writing Pens!

Noir and hard-boiled fiction seem to be in Jeri Westerson’s blood. She was born and bred on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Reporter, would-be actress, graphic artist; these are the things she spent her time on before creating the newest hardboiled detective, Crispin Guest—ex-knight turned PI, solving crimes on the mean streets of fourteenth century London in her Medieval Noir series. The Boston Globe called her detective, “A medieval Sam Spade, a tough guy who operates according to his own moral compass.” Her 2008 debut, VEIL OF LIES, garnered nominations for the Macavity Award for historical mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First PI novel. Her second, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, is also a 2010 finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award, and her third, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT is due for release in October.

When you write novels in an historical setting, you really have to find out all manner of things, things you think you know, but until you really research them you realize you don’t.

We take a lot of information for granted. I suppose we get a lot of our information from movies when it comes to the day to day life of earlier times. But that is a false assumption. For one, you are assuming that the art director did their homework, which they very well may have done, but it also might have been undermined by any number of factors, not the least of which is the director who may say that s/he just doesn’t like the look of something and changes it to something completely anachronistic for the time period.

Like clothing, for instance. Underwear, specifically.

For the most part, we never see medieval underwear. In statues, tapestries, embroideries, and illuminated manuscripts, we usually see people depicted with their clothes on. But that is not always the case. It is wonderful, in fact, when a contemporary artist—and in most cases these are monks drawing in illuminated manuscripts—depict scenes of everyday life; threshing in a field; a lord and lady taking a bath; peasants dancing; entertainers with their trained animals; a lord and lady in the bedchamber.

In cases of the peasantry, we get a good old-fashioned glimpse of their underwear, and underwear tells us a great deal about the rest of their society and the kind of outer garments they wear.

We should address the men, first. It should also be noted that the period I am most concerned with is the fourteenth century, since this is the period I write about in my Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series.

In the illustration, you can see men’s underwear. They are always white and made of linen (as cotton was a latecomer to Europe and very expensive, and wool was just plain too awful to contemplate for underwear). These breeches, called braies, have two legs and a drawstring waistband. Sometimes, though, they are looser, open garments made more like a diaper. The later, however, was so that the design could be flexible, either left longer for long gowns or wrapped up shorter for more stylish shorter cotehardies. The waistbands are rolled down over the drawstring to keep everything secure.

In the second illustration, you can see that the hose or chausses are stockings (which sometimes had feet attached and sometimes not, leaving the wearer to also don socks). For wealthier people, these are made tailored to the shape of the leg. It is made of standard cloth and not like the elastic tights we have today. If it wasn’t made to the leg, it was a lot baggier, as you can imagine. On the thigh they come to a point with a string that is tied to the string waistband of the braies. At this point, men did not wear the tight form-fitting combination hose and underwear (like panty hose) where you can see what they had for breakfast. That was a later innovation, when we see codpieces attached to the front for holstering men’s nether regions (making easy access for a call of nature) and because they couldn’t get breeches on under the tight fitting hose.

For women it was rather more simple. They didn’t wear any underwear. That’s right. No braies, no panties. Nothing but air.

And bras? Forget about it. Though, I think if you were particularly well endowed, you might have invented your own sort of sling, fashion be damned. But if that were so, records and illustrations are scarce on the subject. Possibly for modesty’s sake. There are lists of the king’s clothing, for instance, by the Master of the Wardrobe, and when it gets to mentioning his unmentionables, they resort to quaint Latinate euphemisms.

So wait a minute, you are saying. Why is it that women didn’t wear medieval panties?

It has to be a matter of hygiene. If women were to relieve themselves, they couldn’t be nattering about with lots of ties and this and that and long skirts. At least that’s the explanation. Even in the Victorian era, if breeches/pantaloons they wore, they were crotchless affairs in order to simply get on with it with all those corsets and layers of skirts. Panties are a quite modern innovation for women. But this lack of panties could also very well be the prohibition of women wearing men’s clothing, and breeches certainly smacked of that. The only time women seemed to wear anything on their nether regions was when they had their menses and needed layered cloth pinned in a sort of belt, which was still the way of it up until about the 1970s before adhesive backed paper pads were invented. Now that’s what I call an innovation!

At any rate, under the outerwear, both men and women wore the multi-purpose chemise or shirt/shift. For men the shirt, for women a shift, like a long slip with sleeves. It’s what you see poking out below their skirt and rolled up on a hot day at their sleeves and around the neckline.

Gowns and cotehardies are worn over that. Now remember, underwear was washed, outer clothing, for the most part, was not. Anything close to the skin with its sweat and dirt had to be laundered and therefore underwear was white (colors would fade). Outerwear had to last you a long time and washing clothing breaks it down a lot quicker than any old wear and tear, especially with the harsh lye soaps. Outer clothing was usually made of wool, something plentiful in jolly old England, and was brushed to eliminate dirt and bring back the nap, with particular care taken for individual stains. This is one reason why my character Crispin Guest, can be seen wearing the same cotehardie, his outer clothing, for years and years.

Aaah! Are you smelling it in your mind? I know I am!


Jeri Westerson spends a lot of time imagining that she’s smelling the Middle Ages when she writes her Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series, and that’s saying something since her character lives on the Shambles, the pungent butcher’s district in London. To read an excerpt of her latest, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, and to watch her book trailer, go to

Thursday, May 20, 2010


--Adrienne Miller

I remember it well, the moment that I started thinking about the Bennet sisters a little different. I was knee deep into my first regency-set historical romance manuscript, and I’d come to that scene. Things were about to get all third basey real fast. His hand making its way up her leg and I suddenly realized that I had no idea what he would find up there.

Yeah, of course I knew what he would find there. I didn’t need an anatomy lesson. I needed a fashion lesson. The chemise, the stays, I knew about them, but the regency panties, the drawers. What about those?

I looked all over for pictures, drawings or patterns. I couldn’t find anything. Then I read that the reason that I couldn’t find any was because they didn’t wear any. Really. The regency was a panty-free era. Anne Elliot of Persuasion went commando.

Seriously, Anne Elliot went commando. Makes you kind of understand Wentworth’s longing glances a little better, doesn’t it.

So my heroine wore nothing underneath that chemise. Breezy and fancy free. Sure, it made the love scene easier to write, but I’ve never looked at an Austen heroine the same way again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Not your grandmother's Victoria's Secret

My grandmother wore a corset. No joke. An authentic, honest-to-God, corset.

And she wore it every day of her life, whether she was heading for church, hoeing her vegetable garden, or taking to her bed with a book.

(Just to give this factoid a little perspective, my grandmother was born in 1886. We called her “mammaw,” a bastardization of "maman," a throwback to her Creole roots. Until the day she died she kept a secret stash of confederate money, “just in case”. And when in her home, we had our choice of warm Dr. Pepper or cold, mouth-puckeringly sweet, tea. Ask for anything else, and you were considered uppity.)

Anyway…I was fascinated by it as a child. It wasn’t a lovely corset. It wasn’t, for example, the sort of red-and-black satin-and-lace C'mon boys, nice to meet you garment Victoria’s Secret models traipse around in. It was a supremely everyday, keep-things-tucked-in, down-to-business type of garment, similar to this one:

Ventilated corset with removable busk of 1915. Grey coutil interlined with Hessian. It features eyelets for ventilation, detachable spoon busk, and decorative lace.

(Um...Detachable spoon busk???)

In 1886, when my grandmother was born, a lady might well have lured a man to matrimony with a waist cruelly cinched to an impossible sixteen inches, only to show her massive girth of, say, all of twenty inches on her wedding night...after the hapless groom was already ensnared.

The underpinnings -- or unmentionables, as my grandmother would say-- from past eras were all about showing oneself to be something one wasn't: Enhanced bustle-booties to rival J-Lo, tiny waists a man could wrap his hands around, and breasts ridiculously hoisted up or painfully flattened down, according to the prevailing fashion.

Putting aside, for the moment, the questionable morality of snagging a person’s offer of marriage based upon the wonders of whalebones and silk, I wonder how this sort of thing works in today’s world.

Take, for example, the recent plethora of coyly named “foundation garments”. Don’t they pretty much amount to…ya know…false advertising?

I'm not claiming moral superiority. After all, if I were going up for an Academy Award, you bet your life I’d hire the best experts available for hoisting and supporting and cinching and doing whatever it takes to make a person look inhumanly, unattainably, beautiful up in front of the world.

But seriously, how many of us modern women will be able to keep those Spanx shapers a secret until after the commitment ceremony?

If I wear a corset, I want it to be a frilly seductive thing, full of nonsensical ribbons and lace…you know, the kind of undergarments that look lumpy and bizarre under modern dresses. The kind that's really meant to stand on its own, not as an underpinning at all.

Sorry mammaw, but these days, in my world, that corset would be all about the sex.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rachael's Clean Underpinnings

"Dont leave the house without clean underwear."

Didn't you ever wonder about that one? I don't think my mother ever actually said it, but I'd read it enough that I knew it was a cliche. But whose?

Number 1: Who WOULD leave the house with dirty underwear? Since The time I could dress myself, I'd known that you put on fresh chones when you put on clean clothes. Never any reusing, oh no.

Number 2: The ostensible reason for this rule is that if you get in an accident, you don't want the nice paramedic to know you were a lazy slob who couldn't be bothered to wash enough underwear for the week. Guess what? If the paramedics are slicing off your clothes to get to where you're injured, the blood will probably cover up your slovenliness.

So I never bought this line of thinking. But then again, I was the kind of child who washed my hands three times while eating a chocolate bar. I hated to be dirty in any way, shape, or form. I wasn't even good at making mud pies. The idea horrified me then as it does now.

The only time I've ever flouted any part of this rule is when I travel. I take a perverse pleasure in packing lightly, in traveling to Europe with only a small carrryon bag, with five pairs of underwear for a two-week trip. I love staying in Italian hotels, with their wonderful radiators, washing clothes in the sink, drying them overnight on the radiators while I sleep. A black dress, some scarves, good shoes, leaves you a lot of room in the suitcase for bringing treasures home.

But I failed on this last trip. I failed miserably. I packed badly, too way too much, and yet, I stuck to the idea that I'd wash out my underpinnings and only took a week's worth for a two-week trip. It was a ridiculous point of stubborn pride. Every day that drew closer to the Last Day Of Clean Underwear had me shaking my head, somehow unwilling to sacrifice the few moments it would take to wash my clothes with soap and water and hang them over the shower rail.

I ended up, panicked, at a K-Mart, buying a seven-pack of cheap cotton underwear. I now have chones with rainbows and elephants on them. I won't make that mistake again (but I did have clean underwear. Always. Of course).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Lady in the Yellow Dress

by Sophie


The first time I heard the word "underpinnings":

I was 32 years old. I stayed home taking care of a baby and a toddler, and when I had a chance to go out for a fancy dinner with my husband and some guys from his firm, I said yes in a heartbeat - a night away sounded great. At dinner, I was seated next to the young wife of one of the partners. On the surface she and I had a lot in common - we were about the same age, we both had small kids at home...but there were some differences, too. The family she had married into was the old kind of wealthy - the kind that doesn't announce itself pulling up to the valet or in the number of carats in a diamond ring...the kind whose silver service goes back more years than my ancestors have been in this country, and had their nails buffed but never polished.

There were flashier women at the party that night - prettier women with shorter hems and higher heels and the latest haircuts - but my dinner companion didn't seem to notice. She didn't say much, but when she did, everyone listened. She was wearing a very simple dress, a semi-fitted sheath in pale yellow linen, and it suited her the way her blunt bob and single silver bangle did. I told her I liked it. I did like it, but what I really liked - coveted, even - was her elegance.

"Aren't you sweet to say so," she replied. Then she added, with a conspiratorial smile: "But it was quite a challenge to find the proper underpinnings."

"Ummm," was my clever response.

That night when we got home, I looked the word up. I had turned it over in my mind for the rest of the evening, wondering what it meant. A hairpin of some sort? A shoe? I was closest when I imagined it might be a kind of slip (we used to wear them back then)...but here is what my dictionary said (I still have the same dictionary I received as a gift my freshman year in college, and I occasionally consult it rather than going online, just for nostalgia's sake):

"Undergarments or stays worn to support the shape of an outer garment, or to enhance one's figure."

(Today's dictionaries are less coy: "Underwear.")

Immediately my table-mate's comment made sense (if you've ever tried to find the right bra to wear under pale tissue linen you know what I mean), but it was the romance of the word that stayed with me. My adolescent underwear came from J.C. Penny; after college I shopped at Marshall Field's but I was still solidly in the Maidenform camp. I avoided the boutique brands - La Perla, Wacoal, Cosabella - because of a solidly midwestern, practical sensibility: who's going to see it, that lace won't hold up in the washer, for seventy bucks you could get six bras at get the idea.

I'm pleased to say that I have, in my four and a half decades, owned a lovely, expensive undergarment or two. If you measure value in the sheer delight of slipping on that cool silk, I got my money's worth and then some. But I'm not sure if I've ever felt what my dinner companion projected that night...a sort of serene certainty that the quality of being "just right" was worth every penny, that the search for the bra that wouldn't show through the sheer fabric or create unflattering lumps or bulges - that the time and money spent had been more than justified.

I doubt I'll ever choose to put that much energy into underwear - excuse me, underpinnings - but a toast to my long-ago companion nonetheless. Lady, wherever you are, you had style to spare.

Pens In Action!

So Friday some of us had lunch.

We were there for a couple of hours, and we kept noticing that the decibel level at our table was easily thirty-nine times as robust as it was anywhere else in the restaurant. We felt terribly sorry.

Oh, who are we kidding. We felt smug. And glad. Delighted to have each other, delighted when we fixed each other's teeny plot challenges and solved the world's problems and eased each others' burdens with reminders that hard times pass and friendship lives on.

Lisa and Adrienne

Rachael and Sophie

Adrienne brought a magic fish, and several important questions were put to the fish...

One of us had never seen a magic fish before, so the official instructions were revealed and considered

Rachael could not write fast enough when the ideas started flowing...thank heavens for paper placemats

Friday, May 14, 2010

Theresa Walsh Knows Haiku

I love haiku. Evocative words. Compact presentation. They’re what you can write even when you can’t seem to write. And they give back, too; they fill the creative well—at least for this author.

While drafting my debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I wrote haiku every week, sometimes every day. Sometimes the haiku were light, like this one:

The Other Dragon
Wild dragon in flight;
domesticated dragon
stays home, simmers stew.

Or this:

He thinks he's fishing,
but the worm is off the hook,
learning how to swim.

Other times, not so light:

Farm Life
All just blood and bones,
scattered, spattered on the floor.
Ring the dinner bell!

Sometimes they were all about the wordplay:

Plea of the Fish
"Please add some water..."
Swirls of gold and tangerine
accent uncoiled fronds.


The Queen's Man
A pawn in her eyes,
he tripped on her libretto,
they spilled in his robes.

Often, I’d tie a haiku in with my work-in-progress—the story of twins, a tragedy, and one sister’s uneasy path to recovery:

Blood Sisters
It was not a dream:
upright white flash, blood, our oath,
blink, and you were gone.

But no matter my mood, or the needs of my muse, those poetic tapas always gratified, filled a void in me.

One of my favorite hangouts, and the place that inspired so many of my poems, is the writers’ forum Absolute Write. There you can read and/or contribute poems of any shape or variety, and participate in what is likely the longest chain of haiku in the world—Chain, chain, chain of haiku fools. To contribute, use the last poster’s third haiku line as your first. Check it out here.

I haven’t written as many haiku since my debut novel was accepted for publication and was finally published. There were so many editorial deadlines to meet, a website to construct, publicity and marketing concerns, and then the pressing need to write the second novel to fulfill my two-book contract. I’m in need of a little inspiration now though, and Rachael’s request to post here today has reminded me of this long lost favorite method for finding that. So I’m off to fill the well via a little 5-7-5, and I’m sure to feel better for it.

Thanks again for the invite, Rachael.

(Psst, would you like to read more of my fave haiku poems? I’ve dedicated a page to them on my website, here:)

Therese Walsh is the co-founder of a site Writer’s Digest named one of the best for writers four years running, Writer Unboxed. Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was published in 2009 (Random House). Prior to becoming a novelist, she was a senior researcher and writer for Prevention magazine and Rodale Press, and has had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online. She is married to the next Tommy Makem, and has two cute kids, one cat and a Jack Russell named Kismet. Learn more about her at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Birthday Haiku

My birthday today

Taking time to celebrate

See you all next time!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Martha Thinks Haiku Is Perfect

Ah, for once, I find myself on the side of positivity! Week after week, the others Pens have found lovely things to say about Grace (ugh), Love and Romance (blech) and First Lines (whatever) as I have been a fountain of naysay.

Not this week, my friends, cuz Martha loves herself some haiku.



1. Haiku never lasts long enough to bore you. It's short, sweet, and structured. I'd slit my wrists before finishing overwrought whining from Frost or Shakesperare about a cold, winter's night. But Soseki?

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow

Bam! Done! Satisfied!

2. Haiku is always misunderstood and who doesn't love a misunderstood hero? Despite popular belief, the structure is not based on syllables but sound-count. Let's take the word "haiku." How many "syllables" are in this word? The answer is three: ha-i-ku. Let's try one about Tokyo, capital of the land of haiku. How many "syllables" in that?....
Did you guess four? Go get a cookie.

3. Haiku's symbolism is obvious. How am I supposed to know that Frost uses roses in his poems to represent his dead wife? You'd have to tell me, that's how. But there is a haiku dictionary which details a list of keywords and their seasonal symbolic references. Woohoo!

So keeping this in mind, please enjoy one of my favorite haikus by Issa

a world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

Within these words there is pain, uncertainty, fragility, life, death, doubt - I dare you to better on 17 sound-counts.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Lisa Loves Haiku

Why I love haiku?
Five, seven, five syllables
is easy to do.

Funny that this topic has stirred up such animosity among some Pens. I hesitate to admit it but this subject was my idea.

I am not so good with poetry. Personally I prefer a longer format, say book length, to explore themes and stories. Iambic pentameter, dactylic hexameter, Anapestic tetrameter, Trochaic octameter...all have rules about the lines, feet, stanzas, stressed syllables versus unstressed syllables, rhyming, and the restrictions go on and on. I mean, really, who can remember all of that?

What I love about haiku is that anyone can write it. If you can clap out the syllables, you are good to go.

A few years ago we took a trip to Portland and stayed at the Kennedy School, a really fun, funky old schoolhouse converted into a hotel. The hallways are decorated with absolutely gorgeous artwork, a lot from former students.

This is a painting on the wall, depicting a ghost said to be a former student who haunts the halls

The owners also are brewers and the restaurant serves their yummy beer.

The old theater shows complementary movies all day long.

The rooms are literally old classrooms complete with the original blackboards on the walls.

The one thing the rooms don’t have: televisions. So to keep my kids from moaning about the lack of television, I gave them an assignment. Everyone had to write at least one haiku. Coming up with goofy haiku to describe our adventures turned out to be a heck of a lot of fun.

Try it and you might just learn to love haiku too.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Haiku Inspired Frustration

L.G.C. Smith

Haiku froze my brain.
Creativity failed me.
I'm just frickin' miffed.

It's time for a rant. A small one, but a rant nonetheless. Not for the first time, anything I might possibly have to say about our subject has been said by the First Week Pens.

Oh, things start out fine. Maybe Sophie makes a little comment about something I might address. Oh, well. I think of something else. Then Rachael mentions something else I was thinking about. Back to the drawing board.

Then Juliet says something like "haiku makes me grumpy," and I get a little ruffled. Because it makes me a little grumpy sometimes, too, and I'd thought I could work with that. Kind of along the lines of how great poetry is so stunning but most of it is so meh, and what's up with that? Blah, blah, blah.

Something Japanese in honor of Haiku

I give all that up, and decide I will pursue creating haiku-limerick hybrids. What happens? Adrienne mentions limericks. I soldier on, but with my heart not in it, I manage a few erotic versions, and some spectacularly cheesy ones. They all suck. The insouciant bawdiness of the limerick eludes me. Drat.

Finally, I fall back on the old "Haiku is a form, the novel is a form, Vladimir Propp, folktales, yadda yadda yadda," and our lovely Friday guest, Lila Dare pretty much covers that angle. At this point, I wrote the Haiku at the top of the page.

Really, though, the problem isn't the topic. The problem is coming in the second week. Am I right, fellow second-weekers? Is it time for us to rise up and throw off this shackle?

Nah, I didn't think so. The main reason I'm not much into haiku this week is that I'm in the middle of reading the third volume of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" fantasy series. I started the first volume, "A Game of Thrones," ten days ago. It was 800+ pages. Each installment has gotten progressively longer. This is the novel taken about as far as it's possible to get from haiku. My head is in a space of sweeping sagas rather than that of a tight and tiny gem.

I love these novels: The length.The scores of characters. The names. The multiple plot lines that don't line up exactly chronologically. And so much ugly emotion. Desperation. Foolishness. Weakness. Cruelty. Fury. Avarice. All the bad stuff. Martin is a master of not sparing his characters a lick of pain. If it's possible to make them hurt more, he goes for it. I'm learning from that, even though more than once I've wanted to beg him to be nicer to them. But that's not his way. Neither is haiku his path, and I, for one, am most grateful.