Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Weapons of Mass Seduction


I feel as though I should have strong opinions about weapons. My (macho military) father gave me my very own rifle at the tender age of eight (a .22, which I used to shoot soda cans off the branches of a fallen tree.)

Then I came of age in the Bay Area, went to college in Santa Cruz, and realized weapons were a no-no...whether one is shooting recyclable cans or something decidedly more sinister.

Still, given the nearly pathological absence of common ground upon which to base an actual conversation with my loving and devoted father, I have often accompanied him out to the shooting range so we could bond over the relative merits of his Glock .40 versus the nine millimeter.

But I don’t really care that much, one way or the other, about weapons. Not the way my cousin, for example, sought the perfect butterfly switchblade knife, dragging me in and out of Oakland pawnshops and the back doors of dimly-lit Chinatown shops. Not the way my father lovingly dismantles, cleans, and oils his pistols and revolvers. Not the way my childhood friend Markie Bartle clambered over bombers at the Moffett Field expo, wanting to know precisely how many people each weapon could kill, and how quickly.

My reaction isn’t only yuck…it’s also *snooze*. I just don’t much care.

But seduction…that’s a horse of a different color. And seduction wielded like a weapon? Even better.

After all, what would the mystery genre be without weapons of seduction? Noir would be flat, thrillers would flail, suspense would lose its compelling edge. So in the interest of fiction, I’d like to start the discussion of Weapons of Mass Seduction.

Anything come to mind?

When it comes to standard hetero male-female relationships, I'll list a few no-brainers.

*Disclaimer: in my experience, the following list applies to most men. There are always exceptions, and they are notable.* But by and large, the hetero males of our species are remarkably vulnerable when it comes to certain weapons of seduction:

Corsets – We talked about these previously on the Pens, but they're worth another mention. (I received several private messages from male colleagues/blog readers that week...just sayin')

Stockings – Thigh highs. Garters or no. ‘nuff said.
High heels --Pain-inducing, crippling footwear...a powerful weapon, indeed.

Cleavage – Apparently there are men who don’t enjoy the boobage. Chesticles. Whatever you like to call them… but I think the sheer number of monikers indicate how overwhelmingly popular they are. Hooters. Love pillows. Tatas. Bazoombas. Fun bags. The list goes on…and on. (As an aside: check out the old school allure of "Bosoms")

Conversation. I know, I know, the stereotype is that men don’t care to hear what women say. Not true, in my personal experience. For instance, talking about sex in a clear and open way --one that indicates neither fear nor revulsion—is, apparently, rare. And seductive.

And women? Women are just about as easy as men.

I’ve heard men complain that it’s tougher to seduce women. I beg to differ. It’s just that a lot of men try to seduce women with what they themselves think to be attractive. Speaking not for everywoman, but for many of us, I can categorically say:

Flat abs/washboard stomach? Whatever. Ability to scale rock walls and windsurf? Yawn. Fancy car, lots of cash, bestselling status? What are we, fourteen? And bragging about any of the former, or dissing the ex-wife? Good lord in heaven, where’s the exit???

On the other hand…A man who’s sweet to little kids? Hot. If he likes animals, is kind to old people? Steaming.

Smart, good sense of humor, looks you in the eyes while talking to you?
Excuse me while I go fan myself.

*And one personal fetish: if he can spell (or at least bother to use spell-check)…I’m a goner.*

So when it comes to weapons of seduction, I say: Wield that stuff like a knife, baby. Oh, and then go write a novel about it. After all, where would mystery/drama/comedy be without it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I love guns. I love to shoot, adore the bang and flash and the smell. I even like to clean my gun afterward, polishing the cool metal and cleaning the barrel.

I love knives, but I'm scared of them. I think they can be more swiftly deadly than guns, and I'm a klutz. I don't play with them, and sometimes I'm scared to even chop tomatoes.

My weapon of choice? Easy.

The common knitting needle.

Think about it. Gorgeous in its simplicity, it can be used for much more than knitting a sweater. My favorite needles are AddiTurbos, which are two sharp metal tips connected by a thin plastic cable.

God, THINK about the possibilities. A knitter on the bus, sitting with her yarn, knitting away on her peach-colored shawl. She smiles as you sit in front of her. You turn, and say oh-so-creatively, "Knit one, purl two?" She laughs and inclines her head. She's probably NEVER heard that one before. You turn around, satisfied that you'll get her number before you both disembark. There are only the two of you in the bus, and she's a sure thing, lonely with her yarn.

The bus goes through a dark tunnel. You feel her breath on your ear--this is it. You knew it. You turn your head and see her peach lace lying on the ground behind your seat, no needle holding it all together. The last thought you have before you're garroted is that your grandmother would have approved of a knitter like her.

I, however, am a little more tender when it comes to my needles, and I use them as a different kind of weapon. I display them when I need help coping with something -- pulling them out and knitting furiously as people discuss politics around me. The more stupid a comment is, the faster I knit. A whole sock can get done as people discuss their opinions of the death penalty. I hold my knitting in front of me like an amulet when I'm in a house that's playing a TV channel I don't normally watch (OKAY - LET'S JUST SAY IT, I'm looking at you, FoxTV) , knowing that knitting fast and hard will save me, will get me out alive.

My knitting needles are my protection. My life preserver. And if I ever need them to be, they really could be a rather effective weapon.

And if, god forbid, I'm ever chased by a vampire, I hope I have my rosewood needles with me. They would do some eternal damage.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Don't Start Something You Can't Finish

by Sophie


So Juliet and I were talking about weapons over the weekend in our downtime (we were in Phoenix for the first annual Poisoned Pen Mystery Readers Conference, which was a blast - more on that in a moment) and we were both whining that all the other Pens know SOOOOOO much more than we do on the subject. Well, I was whining, actually; Juliet received an entire arsenal as a gift when she was a toddler, but I'll let her talk about that.

Weapons figure prominently on the cover of both of my books, which I find sort of amusing, especially since one of them is a gun, and what I knew about guns - until recently - you could fit on a matchbook cover.

I did what every good writer does and researched the heck out of the guns I put in my books - and then I backed it up by consulting experts.

But when Juliet and I were talking, it occurred to me that there is one weapon I know well:


How do we hurt each other most deeply? Consider this list of emotion words, and stack them up against any teetering tower of bullets, throwing stars, nunchucks, cat-o-nine-tails, nailguns and the like:

betray, spurn, vex, villify, condemn, castigate, shame, pillory, confound, defame...

I could do this all day, but regrettably I am on a churning-burning deadline so I must close prematurely. But as a consolation, here are a few photos from the weekend - -

The crew from the Poisoned Pen conference: Juliet; Phoenix SistersInCrime Roni and Shantelle; Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen; and authors Lauren Willig and Dana Stabenow (yes, they are in p.j.s...long story)

Juliet and librarian extraordinaire Lesa Holstein of the Glendale Public Library, who graciously hosted a group of us for an event called "Women Who Kill"

Juliet, me, and Stefanie Pintoff, winner of this year's Edgar for Best First Mystery Novel
This is the villa we somehow got accidentally upgraded to, at the Arizona Biltmore. (A front desk clerk may have been involved.) SWANKY! And yes, those are my toes :)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Susan Shea's Rules

Today the Pens are happy to welcome Susan Shea, a lovely member of our local writing community and someone who writes a clever, twisting, mysterious tale about one of my favorite subjects: the clever, twisted, mysterious ways of the art world. Susan has her first novel coming out THIS MONTH: Murder in the Abstract (an Avalon Mystery). Booklist calls it: "...a series to watch."

Plus: Susan is generously offering a signed copy of Murder in the Abstract to a randomly chosen commenter! So leave a comment (with your email in the text) and answer this question: what rule(s) make YOU freeze?


Immediately, I’m suspicious. Oh, yeah? Who says?

Next, I’m nervous. What happens if I mess up?

Then, I’m confused. What are they? Who has them?

Clearly, I don’t do rules well. I don’t have the traffic tickets or IRS penalty notices to prove it because I’m not stupid. Those kinds of rules cost more time and money to thwart than I want to spend unless there’s a moral issue involved. However, this wonderful blog site is about writing and writers, and I’m a guest, so I’ll stick with rules for writing and why they only sometimes make sense to me.

Here’s a recent, true demonstration of my attempt to follow the rules. I’m having trouble with the pacing of my second book, especially because the end is sort of tricky. I like the scenes and the order in which they take place. But fitting them into chapters is getting awkward, never mind into three acts. See, someone smarter than I am told me to divide my book into three acts. There’s a crisis at the end of the first act. There’s a defining situation at the end of the second act that makes the pursuit of the villain a personal quest - no turning back from this point on. And, of course, there’s the climax and resolution at the end of the third act. So far, so good.

But another, equally successful author wrote that the big moment comes halfway through the book, which brings up another of my weak points: math. What’s half of a third and does that mean the highest drama comes before the second act’s climax? I’m now completely frozen. Never mind chapters – I’m not sure where the periods go! So I call yet another smarter-than-me author who obviously understands this stuff. She’s patient and I almost get it after a half hour.

Two weeks later, any clarity I had has evaporated. So I scrap all the rules and decide to reread the entire manuscript in hard copy and do it by instinct. End the chapters with a flourish where my protagonist sticks out her tongue, metaphorically. Consider a third to be a moveable point at which someone brandishes a knife or finds a body. And the midpoint? Oh, well, it’s in there somewhere. Maybe a kind editor will point it out to me during revisions. I’m going with my gut and remembering that the point of all these rules is to establish and maintain a rhythm, mounting tension, and belief in the characters and their intentions, good and bad.

The writers who host this site have proven they can do all of that and, if they follow rules, they do it so gracefully that I’m not aware of the structure, just caught up in their stories. Maybe one rule we authors can all follow, even if we’re not so good at fractions, is just that: write a great story and make the hard work invisible to the reader.

Thanks for letting me visit Pen Fatales!

Susan C. Shea is the author of MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT, the first in a series of crime novels. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Rules of Writing (and Life)

by Gigi

This week, an online mystery writers group to which I belong had a lively discussion about the "rules" of writing.

During the discussion, a wonderful quote by Neil Gaiman was mentioned:

Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

I love this quote for two reasons.

The first, simple reason is that he's absolutely right. If a writer spends too much time listening to the established "rules" of writing, the creative process is stifled. Sure, a writer should learn grammar and study the form of a successful novel, but once the writer understands those things, they can -- and should -- do what works best to tell their stories. (Yes, I the writer made a conscious choice to use "they" in that previous sentence instead of "he," "she," or "he or she.")

The second reason I love that quote is because Neil Gaiman is someone who has used his creative talents to write across genres and across mediums. Fantasy writer, poet, young adult novelist, graphic novelist, playwright for stage, TV, and film -- and probably more things I don't even know about.

By the rules of this industry, branching out into so many areas for creative fulfillment and additionally using only one name is a rare feat. I love that Neil Gaiman has done this not only because I've enjoyed his work, but because the accomplishment inspires me. It's a reminder that it's okay to throw myself into multiple creative pursuits as I wish to do.

I've mentioned before that my identity isn't writer. I consider myself a creative. I'm an artist, a designer, a photographer, and a mystery writer -- in no particular order.

One of the things I don't like about the rules of life is that people are supposed to have an identity that can be summed up in one line on a business card. When I started attending mystery conventions last year, I knew it was time to make myself a business card separate from my day job. The problem was I couldn't decide what to put on it. All of my creative pursuits are part of my identity.

I tried listing everything (seen in the green card at right). Even though it was a clean layout, the friends I showed it to objected. They said it was confusing. That I had to pick one. Since I was going to be mingling with mystery readers and writers, that I should say "writer" or "mystery writer" or some variation on that.

But I didn't want to choose. I wasn't merely being pig-headed. It wouldn't have been true to the package I wanted to present to focus on one facet of something fluid.

The idea that won out was to simply have my branded name at the top, with my main websites and contact information below. There's no mention of what I do. But if you get one of my cards, it's because I've met you, so presumably you know something about me -- but who knows what in particular might have come up. The paper the card is printed on also makes it easy to write notes on the back of the card, if I ever want to jot anything down for someone.

Problem solved, although I'm still unhappy about the fact that I couldn't say everything I wanted to. I truly believe that for me at least, all these creative endeavors are wrapped up together.

Here's a picture of my notebook for the latest novel I'm working on. It involves an Indian pirate from centuries past who's exploits are wrapped up in a present-day mystery, so the notebook didn't feel complete until I slapped that top-hat pirate sticker on the cover. Inside the notebook, the pages are graph paper, so I can easily both write and sketch whatever I want to. Papers are sticking out of it from things I've pasted to the pages. So I suppose it's an idea-book more than a notebook. And that's just the way I like it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Martha Thinks (Insert Pen's Name) Rulez

For the record, I wasn't quite done with last week's anniversary love affair when we slobbered over each other.

Since I'm not one for rules (complete surprise, right?), I'm gonna continue with the adora-fest.

Sophie rulez cuz she didn't quit. I'm sure you've heard of Sophie by now. If not, you must not read Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, or Huffpo you uncivilized baffoon! But man, if you knew how Sophie clawed her way up from unpubbed to poo-bah you'd wonder why Glenn Close hasn't capped a hobo to play her in a Lifetime movie.

Rachael rulez cuz she can make a sweater from scratch. And by scratch, I mean she can shear the sheep, spin the yarn, and then knit the damn thing. (I *have* asked you to be on my apocalypse team, right, Rachael? Consider this your official invite.)

Juliet rulez cuz quite simply, I'm smitten. I hate to fall back on pure sex appeal, but if I were a dude, I'd drool all over her. I'm sure she's also talented, smart, funny and all these other things...but what can I say. I'm the baser sort.

Adrienne rulez cuz she has fear and she forges ahead anyway. This is her own personal story to share so I won't but trust me, when I say she rulez, I effing mean it.

Lynne rulez cuz she is probably the smartest woman on the planet. Quite frankly, I don't understand why her brain hasn't exploded from all the information in there. Like, useful information. Not just the names of every cast of every reality tv series...not that uh...I have that...or anything...moving on....

Lisa rulez cuz she cares. I've never seen anyone care so much about people. It's ridonculous. She can gussy up more sympathy for a complete stranger than I can for my entire family. Don't cough in front of her or the next thing you know, she'll have you lying back on the couch with a cup of chicken soup and a thermometer.

Gigi rulez cuz she sees the world in a way most can't imagine. She takes pictures of things most people would just walk by and captures them so hauntingly, so beautifully, that it takes your breath away.

So that takes "Rules" topic! I do what I want! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Only Rule

I’ve been contemplating this topic since I entered the subject in our calendar. There are so very many “rules” that could be discussed but I’m limiting myself to the only rule that truly matters.

And the only rule I strive to always follow.

The Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated.

I remember very clearly the first time this rule was presented to me (which frankly is almost a miracle because I have horrible long term memory unless it is jogged by auditory or visual stimulus). I was in second grade, had just moved to a new place, and during an assembly, someone (this would be where my memory takes a hike) spoke to us about the Golden Rule.

If my life were a movie, the stage set would be illuminated by a giant burst of golden light shining down from above as a chorus of cherubs sing some otherworldly chant.

Painting of angels

That’s how clearly I still remember that moment. I absorbed and embraced the idea. To treat other people the way I wanted to be treated. So simple and so right.

Happy Tuesday!


ps--I don't always succeed but I try my best. Sorry for being MIA the last few weeks. I'm back now. :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ruled Lines

L.G.C. Smith

This is one of those topics I could write about for a year without exhausting my thoughts and observations. Yes, I think a lot about rules. As a child I was keen to learn and follow rules, whatever they might be. No hitting. No pinching. No biting. Don't touch fire or poo. All embraced and mastered early. Forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right. Got it. Line up quietly and calmly at appropriate times. No pushing or shoving, no pestering the other kids of disrupting the line. I loved that one.

It didn't take me long to notice that different people had different rules, both within families and in society. We moved a lot, and things were different in Billings, Montana as opposed to Ft. Defiance, Arizona, Guam, or the San Francisco suburbs. Family rules were pretty constant, though. When I was six, we had to be in bed by seven thirty, even in the summer because my mother was tired by then. All the other kids in the neighborhood got to play outside until it got dark, and I learned that rules aren't necessarily fair or palatable.

Thus started my internal negotiations with and meditations upon rules. They were generally to be observed, but they should also be questioned, and, at times, as I came to understand, modified, or, gasp, set aside.

For a long time this latter remained mostly a theoretical position. In day to day life, if there was a rule, I generally went along with it and didn't feel too constrained. By high school, I was a quiet, respectful, cooperative teenager. People looked at me and saw a rule-abider par excellence. Especially teachers, the narks who patrolled the school parking lot, and the attendance secretary.

By this time, I had been carefully observing all the kids who didn't follow the rules and what the consequences were in their lives. I'd realized that consequences were not uniformly or fairly meted out. Good kids could get away with all kinds of rule-breaking. Or kids who looked like good kids going on the Eddie Haskell principle. I could get away with breaking rules. So I started experimenting.

Sadly, I didn't venture into anything terribly interesting or rebellious. Drat that goody-goody core. No, my rule breaking mostly involved the relatively tame exercise of leaving the school grounds frequently without permission and writing my own notes to cover my many absences. No drugs (I was asthmatic -- I wasn't going to smoke anything, much less snort anything). No alcohol. No promiscuity. I ran errands and drove around. I did tend to drive fairly far afield. Half Moon Bay. Point Reyes. Sonoma County. Santa Cruz. Still. Not exactly bad ass doings.

It should come as no surprise that as a middle-aged adult, I prefer a quiet, orderly life. I often like rules other people think are stupid. For example, I still like proper lining up. I hate bus stops in Berkeley where people mill about in no discernible order. I am always acutely aware of who was there when I arrived and who came after me. There is a line in my head. I am disgusted by the general surge toward the doors that takes no account of this line.

No lines necessary at Garsdale Station

This is possibly why I like England and Switzerland so much. The English and the Swiss do lines beautifully, governed by the simple fairness of who arrives first. I understand this. People are not embarrassed to form a line, and I like that. It shows a willingness to be courteous and fair. I also understand that other cultures, including my own, are less structured and/or governed by different cultural values. But I will never like haphazard lines, cutting, or random behavior where there should be tidy lines.

Last fall when I was in England, at the end of a day trip to Carlisle, my parents, my cousin, and my sister and her three-year-old were on the platform at the train station waiting to return back to our house in Wensleydale. We were ready to line up, but being tourists, we waited for a few others to start the lines. As soon as they did, we picked one and joined, even though we had my mom with her bum hip, a small child who wished to be held, and twenty minutes to wait. It was a loose line as English lines go, but it was definitely a line.

Carlisle Station

Suddenly a woman appeared who looked like a line-breaker. I couldn't say how but I could feel her intent. My sister and I immediately shifted closer to the person ahead of us. The interloper took a couple of steps toward us on a trajectory that would have landed her two people ahead of us. Without a word, my sister picked up her daughter, thus increasing her bulk, and both she and I angled our bodies to give the line-breaker our backs and present a solid wall she would have to breech should she seek to persist with her unseemly quest. "You will not break lining-up (aka queuing) rules on our watch," we might as well have said.

The woman, probably a tourist or immigrant, or possibly Kate Fox doing research, huffed in disgust and scuttled off to break into someone else's line. Later, on the train, my sister turned in her seat to look back at me. "Did you see that woman?" she sneered. I knew exactly who she meant, and we both cracked up.

Proper people waiting to line up

All of us pick and choose which rules we like and which ones we want enforced, which ones we think are silly, or dangerous, but one thing is clear: rules are not absolute but they are absolutely impossible to avoid. Even those seemingly inviolable childhood rules -- no hitting, no pinching, no biting and so on -- can be tossed safely overboard between consenting adults. Rules are great, even when they suck, because they create conflict. Conflict makes us feel something, think, and act. It makes us grow and change and solve problems (often caused by rules). Rules are hugely productive. Especially for writers.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Breaking Rules

Welcome today's guest blogger, mystery writer Krista Davis, whose Domestic Diva series features two characters with very different ideas about what it means to follow the rules. Heroine Sophie Winston is someone we consider a bit of an anti-Martha Stewart, but her nemesis Natasha has some other ideas about what it takes to be a domestic diva...

The mere thought of breaking rules is a little bit seductive, like sneaking a chocolate-iced Krispy Kreme doughnut when you’re on a diet, or falling in love with a vampire bad boy. Of course, not all rules are fun to break. Sticking a finger into an electrical socket or driving on the wrong side of the road is just unwise at best.

In the Domestic Diva Mysteries, Sophie Winston and her best friend Nina Reid Norwood would say they follow rules. Except for the stupid ones. And that drives Natasha (one name, please, like Cher) nuts because she thinks she’s the Martha of the South, and that Sophie really doesn’t qualify as a domestic diva because she won’t follow the rules.

Natasha would tell you that it’s three weeks to Fourth of July weekend. “By now, I hope you’ve sent your invitations, decorated with hand-drawn fireworks that you embellished with red, white, and blue sparkles. You still have time to sew patio cushions and install shiny blue tile on the top of your picnic table. Don’t forget to schedule a trip to pick fresh blueberries for the pie.”

Sophie would laugh at her because she believes in keeping things simple. She doesn’t send friends and family formal invitations. They know they’re invited. And a blue or red tablecloth would be just as festive as blue tiles. Sophie defies the new rules of domestic divahood which infuriates Natasha. No one gathers in Natasha’s perfect, sterile kitchen. They come to Sophie’s house (just down the block) where a fire crackles in the kitchen fireplace on cold days, and there’s always something good to eat. This time of year, you’ll find Sophie and her friends gathering on her patio around watermelon margaritas and spiced shrimp.

Natasha believes in rules and is always the first to point out Sophie’s failings when it comes to being a domestic diva, or anything else for that matter. Yet, it’s Natasha who broke the cardinal rule of girlfriends. A rule so big that it’s right up there next to thou shalt not kill. Natasha set up housekeeping with Sophie’s ex-husband. Sophie likes to think that her marriage was already over, but her family and friends aren’t so sure. Natasha is paying for her wrongdoing, though. She’s finding that the trouble with stealing someone’s husband is the constant worry that he might just wander back to his old love, especially since Natasha hasn’t been able to convince him to tie the knot.

Sophie and Nina would never betray a girlfriend that way, but they’re not beneath sneaking into someone’s house or office for a little snooping when murder is involved. Definitely illegal, but it sort of pales in comparison to wrecking a marriage. Does it seem like it’s lower on the scale of rules that can be broken because they’re trying to right a wrong by catching a killer? Or because that unwritten rule of girlfriends is of the highest order?

Sneaking a forbidden Krispy Kreme doughnut is about the extent of my rule breaking. But don’t worry about Sophie, one of these days Natasha’s finger may just find its way into an electrical socket.

National bestselling author Krista Davis writes the Domestic Diva Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her first book, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, was nominated for an Agatha award. The Diva Paints the Town was released a few months ago and The Diva Cooks A Goose will be in bookstores in December. Learn more about Krista's books at and visit her at, where she blogs on Saturdays, as well as a fun new blog written by characters in cozy mysteries

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rules Vs. Ideas

-- Adrienne Miller

When I was a teenager my older sister and I used to go to the movies all the time, and I remember how horrified my mother’s co-worker became when she found out that we had gone to see Thelma and Louise. 
“Don’t you worry that they’ll get Ideas?” she asked. 
My mom, as it turned out, didn’t worry about the Ideas we might have picked up during our two hours in a darkened theater. Chances were we weren’t going to start rebelling against every male authority figure in our lives just because we saw Geena Davis shoot up a gas truck. I was a highly impressionable fourteen when I saw the movie, so I wasn’t completely untouched. I did walk away with a lifelong appreciation of Brad Pitt’s abs.
Ideas seem to be the thing that Rules fear the most. Ideas scare the crap out of Rules. And those of us who have from time to time have gotten one of these Ideas are watched with a sharp eye. 
Ideas shake things up. They mess with the status quo. Ideas are, by their very nature, untested, and there is no guarantee that they’ll be Good Ideas.
The Rules, on the other hand, keep everything safe, everything orderly. And safe and orderly are good things if you’re trying to cross a street or drive on the freeway. But what if you’re writing a book?
Let’s go right for the sacred cows, shall we? How about that Rule that says that adverbs are bad. Adverbs make for bad writing, lazy writing. 
Well, Jane Austen’s Persuasion is one of my favorite books of all time, and it’s so chock-full of adverbs you can’t go more than a couple of lines before tripping over a modified verb. Now, you can’t tell me that Persuasion is a bad or lazy book. You might not be an Austen fan--fair enough--but you can’t deny the importance of her novels or their devoted fan following.
Is it the adverbs that make Persuasion a great book? No. But if you edited them out it wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be the book that I love. In taking away that one simple thing you would be draining out the voice of the book and, with it, the charm. 
So, what should we do with this Adverbs Are Bad Rule if good books can be brimming with them? I’m going to throw out an Idea. 
They’re not. They’re just not popular right now. They’re not in vogue. It’s not a Rule. It’s a Fashion. The pendulum will swing back the other way. Hell, if bellbottoms can make a comeback then so can adverbs. Give it another fifty years or so and our characters will begin to sing cheerfully and smile widely again.
I’m not saying that we should all start stuffing our manuscripts with adverbs. That’s the thing about Ideas. They don’t live the same kind of black or white lives that Rules do. Ideas can be both forged from solid logic and make terrible sense at the same time. My opinion--if you want to be a popular fiction writer, then you should write in the popular style. 
So, which pony am I backing in this Rules vs. Ideas race? Both are well and good. Both have their place. There are no easy answers. We all just have to Reason it out for ourselves.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Juliet's Rules

I like rules.

I should clarify. I like MY rules. Nobody else's.

I've developed a whole lot of rules over the last forty-seven years of life (actually, I guess more like the last thirty-four years or so, only after I started sloughing off those offered to me by my loving, well-meaning, rule-bound parents.)

Some of my rules are quite prosaic: always put your phone charger cord back in the same place or you WILL lose it; never call a younger man "adorable", especially when he's asking you on a date ; shells and detritus from a seafood dinner MUST go in the outside trash before bed....

But others are less so. Below are a few rules I try to live by:

(Disclaimer: *I apologize in advance for inadvertently and blatantly stealing from inspirational ditties, childhood poems, and particularly effective T-shirt slogans*)

1. If there's any way to enjoy what you're doing, enjoy it to the fullest

2. Don't make excuses for remaining miserable

3. Do something that scares you, every single day...or at least every week

4. Smile

5. Always remember everything you have received,
but forget what you have given to others

6. Take naps (even better with a friend)

7. Don't offer advice unless it's asked for...and even then, dole it out in a miserly fashion

8. Enjoy cocktails with friends every chance you get
(in costume whenever possible)

9. Don't wish things away; you might miss them when they're gone

10. Be kind whenever possible; then go bitch to your closest friends

11. Make art, fully in the knowledge that no artist is ever truly pleased

12. Make plans, but understand that few plans will ever come to fruition
(nor should they)

13. Trust in the Fates. They may be old and ugly, but they've got your back.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rachael is a Little Daring

I was always a rule-follower. I was one of those kids who knew where she was supposed to be when the whistle on the playground blew. I knew where to line up, I knew who should be behind me, and I knew where everyone else was supposed to be, too. I'd glare at kids who ran around after the bell had gone off. Didn't they KNOW they weren't supposed to use the water fountain right before we lined up?

I've gotten over most if it. I try not to care when other people break the rules, and honestly, I'm pretty good at not caring -- as long as they're not hurting someone else, I can't be bothered. If someone gets free cable because the company has forgotten to turn it off, good for them. If a person with twenty items in their cart is in front of me in the 9-items-or-less line, I pick up the latest People magazine, grateful I have a little more time with it.

The best part is knowing exactly what the rules are so I can break them in small ways. It feels daring. Dangerous. The better you know the rules, the more fun it is to bend them. I like to go in the Out door at the supermarket. I like to enter parking lots where they have painted an exit arrow. I've been known to movie-hop. I like to rip off the tags that say "Do Not Remove." I really enjoy washing my dry-clean-only clothes.

And I love knowing the rules about writing that I've already broken:

No one keeps writing after college.
It's impossible to get an agent without knowing someone.
No one sells their first completed manuscript.

Now I'm working on disproving the rule that No one makes a living from writing. Wanna break the rules with me? Who's in?

Monday, June 14, 2010

You Can't Make Me

by Sophie


Oh, dear.

Rules are sort of a hot button issue for me. It's not that I don't believe in them. It's not that I don't understand that, in the absence of some sort of societal structure that includes limit-setting and behavioral expectations, the world would descend into chaos.

But rules make me chafe like a six-year-old boy wearing a tie to church. I hate being told what to do.

As you can imagine, this isn't the most effective way to go through life. Sometimes I think I'm only a few frustrations away from moving into a hut in the woods, where neighborhood associations can't tell me what color my mailbox has to be and bureaucrats can tell me what classes my kids have to take to get their high school degree and Real Simple magazine can't tell me I ought to be composting. Most of the time, though, I find it interesting to push back against expectations and see how many of the pressures and strictures I can resist - not to be a contrarian, but in the interest of honoring my true self.

This is a reversal from the first few decades of my life, when I went around trying to mold myself to fit the expectations, rather than the other way around. In fact, this reversal became the theme of my mystery series. The second book, A BAD DAY FOR PRETTY, came out last week, and once again it features the adventures of avenging middle-aged widow Stella Hardesty, who was herself a "behaver," a nice lady who stayed quietly out of the way serving her family and community and making sure everything looked pleasant to outside observers.

Stella was covering up a terrible secret - her husband's abuse - and when she had a life-changing mid-life crisis she did a dramatic 180, going from June Cleaver to won't-take-shit-from-anyone pretty much overnight.

My own transition was more subtle. I started rebelling in small ways against what was expected of me. Stating my opinion a bit more often (and for women my age, that may be the most subversive act of all, given how forcefully we were coached to defer and "make nice"), insisting on doing things my way, making unpopular choices and taking responsibility when they didn't work out the way I wanted.

I think the worst of that particular storm is over. With apologies to all the innocent bystanders, I think midlife change requires a bit of a meltdown (much like the transition from teen to young adult, a process I am participating in with a couple of frustrating people around here) - and I think I'm at the stage where, like the toddler, I'm a little tired of beating my fists on the floor and screaming, maybe ready to wipe the tears off my face and go out and play.

As for Stella, she's through the worst of her "reinvention" as well, but she's chosen to stay lean and mean and looking for trouble. Which is a good thing, because she's fictional and all...and badass makes a much better story.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Critical Mass Salon

Ever since I clutched my late-bloomer’s MFA diploma in my sweaty fist, I’ve been looking for a salon. A group of fabulous people who can talk about the poetics of loss in Hemingway or the influence of film on modern writers or why the West Coast still can’t get the respect it deserves, literarily speaking. Our MFA program director, the talented poet and Tim Gunn stand-in Aaron Shurin, once made us write a letter about one of the elements of our own personal poetics, and had us send it to someone. The writer friend I sent it to has never acknowledged the letter, so I learned to shut up about it. But I longed for those discussions all the same.

Why, you might ask, didn’t I salon it up with my fancy MFA cohorts? Well, I did for as long as I could, but they didn’t love Dashiell Hammett or Flannery O’Connor quite as much as I did. And only one of them is still writing.

You can’t live in San Francisco for ten minutes before you find at least a few writer friends (who still write) to hang out with, plus I kept the writer friends I brought with me from Oakland and Los Angeles and even more exotic locales. My friends might vent their spleens about this publishing house or that eBook trend, or bemoan the unbearable burden of marketing in a shrinking economy, but they seemed to find it distressing or disturbing or vaguely insulting to talk about what writers and artists have talked about for thousands of years – how the hell this art thing works. My friends inspired and encouraged me to write, but I was still lonely for my fantasy salon.

And then Pens Fatales was born.

I was skeptical at first. Many a grog starts off with a bang and then folds under the weight of having to come up with new content every damn week. But the Pens just kept making me laugh, or cry, or see the world in a whole new light, day after day, week after week. I looked forward to popping open my internet browser first thing at work, to get a little inspiration for the day. After about nine months it hit me square between the eyes – these women can WRITE! They don’t play it safe, they write from the heart, or from other organs, depending on the theme. They share embarrassing moments, profound observations, and fabulous stories, but most of all, the Pens Fatales write the hell out of their grog. And even more delightful, it is easy to tell, purely by voice, which Pen has written for the day.

Honestly, I can’t believe I get so much delicious content for free.

In software (my day job), we talk a lot about how to make a site “sticky,” keep people coming back. The trick is to give people content they want, not content that sells what you want to sell. Without a doubt, the writers of Pens Fatales do this day in and day out. Because they deliver so much wonderful prose, if they happen to mention a book or an event, I’m motivated to check it out—because I know how wonderfully they all write, it’s very likely I’ll enjoy their latest book, or have fun at their latest event. It’s the opposite of selling. Attraction by quality.

Pens Fatales has hit a critical mass of talent, and created the salon of my dreams. I’m never disappointed, though I am sometimes challenged to rethink my theories, and every once in a while the compassion and warmth that flows through the grog reminds me to be a better person.

So thank you, Pens, for creating the salon of my dreams.


BIO: Mysti Berry is an award-winning screenwriter, short-story writer, and budding novelist. Her first mystery novel, By the Numbers, is hurtling towards completion. She lives in San Francisco with husband Dale Berry, creator of the graphic novel series Tales of the Moonlight Cutter.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Another Anniversary: Goonies are Good Enough

by Gigi

It's been a great year since we launched this blog. In the time since we started planning the Pens Fatales last spring, I signed with an agent, bought my first house, wrote my first Young Adult mystery, and have had a blast on this blog. (At left is one of my favorite photos I've taken of the group.)

The other Pens have thoroughly summed up how this idea grew into something more than we ever imagined. I couldn't say it any better myself, so instead, today I'm going to talk about another important anniversary that's happening this week: the 25th anniversary of The Goonies.

Oh yes, I'm talking about that cult movie classic from childhood.

The Goonies
has a special place in my heart. Like the MacGyver homage I wrote and filmed as a teenager, The Rescue of Mac and Sam: A Mission of Friendship, I also made a Goonies movie.

A friend and I were lucky enough to spend a summer in Europe when we were 16. Thus was born The Goonies Go To Europe.

Remember the story of the Goonies? A scrappy group of kids goes on a treasure hunt in search of one-eyed Willie's pirate treasure along the Oregon coast, to save their parents' houses from being foreclosed.

Like my MacGyver movie, the starting point of our movie was the end of the real movie, where the Goonies have found the treasure, captured the bad guys, and everyone is happy. The premise for our "sequel" was that the authorities didn't believe the riches were from a pirate treasure, and the Goonies' parents have been sent to jail. Thus, our Goonie alter egos, "Hikey" and "Feta" -- instead of the real characters Mikey and Data -- go on a Goonie adventure to prove their innocence.

We filmed scenes like running from bad guys through an overgrown glen in Scotland (where we accidentally fell down a muddy hillside -- but at least we got it on tape!), and found a clue in the mouth of a lion in Trafalgar square.

Unlike my MacGyver movie, this one didn't have a coherent plot. But with our spoofs of Data's ingenious inventions -- e.g. duct tape on our shoes to climb back up that muddy hill -- we captured the spirit of the adventure. (Um, at least that's what we were going for.)

Last weekend was the official 25th anniversary of the real film. Filmed in and around Astoria, Oregon, "The Goon Docks" storefront was set up in Astoria, and the whole town was participating in a Goonies treasure hunt and other activities.

I was visiting Oregon at the time for my dad's birthday, so I got to check out the festivities.

We went by the Goonies house in Astoria, and out to the coastal rocks that gave the Goonies the fateful clue that led to their great adventure.

I had to fly home before the screening of the new Goonies documentary. But I think it was for the best. I want to remember the magic of the movie that inspired my imagination when I was a kid, not learn about whatever happened behind the scenes.

Yeah, it's been a great week with two exciting anniversaries.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Martha Hands Out Anniversary Presents

Happy Anniversary Ladies! We made it - one year! You know what we deserve? Presents.

GPS tracker linked to all of us

Sophie might be our fearless leader but Lisa, you're our Mama Bear. You're always worrying about us, how we're doing, and where we are so maybe this will set your mind at ease!

yarn, yarn and lots of yarn

You've been so much fun and I swear your face only has one expression - cheery. Even when you're in fierce-protective mode or being grumpy-pants because someone was mean to a fellow Pen, you can't get rid of those rosy cheeks! I especially love how your eyes light up when you're showing off your latest sweater creation. Also, we don't have matching PensFatales mittens yet. I'm just sayin'!!


I get it. You're big jetsetters. You run off to conferences. You vacation in Ireland. You fly off at a moment's notice to see babies being born (congrats btw!!!!). We're impressed. Now stay home. We miss you.

a pocket protector

Your cool quotient is a little too high for this group. It's also effortless which makes it even higher. Here's a little something to bring you down to our geek/nerd level. Don't leave us! *clings desperately to Gigi*

a video camera

You're the big mystery in the group to me probably because we get to spend the least amount of time together. I know there's a touch of mischief and a touch of magic to you and that's why I insist you videotape your day so I can live vicariously through you!

a book contract

I saved best for last. Adrienne, you're my partner in crime. Last year, when we both re-joined RWA, we didn't know any of these crazy ladies (except we knew not to make eye contact with that Sophie chick cuz odds are if she's laser-sighted you then she wants something.) I didn't realize how far out of your comfort zone you were, because you were so witty and warm I figured you were right at home. I'm so excited that the NYT has pimped Sophie and Target is onto Rachael and Julie is running up the charts, but when the world is finally onto you Adrienne, it's gonna be insane.

(p.s. I kinda "stole" these presents so fingers crossed no graphics police are around)